Press-Republican

March 2, 2013

Could PAFB museum fly?

Public invited to weigh inat informational meeting

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh Air Force Base, a huge presence here for 40 years, has little remaining to tell its story.

But there’s a move to create a Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum, an idea Keith Herkalo pitched at a recent Battle of Plattsburgh Association Board of Directors meeting.

Now, at a meeting set for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, he’ll bring it to the larger community.

Such a museum could fill a void in the area’s historical coverage, he said, and leave a lasting record of a base that greatly influenced the North Country and remains a point of pride among those associated with it.

Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp. has looked for “a legacy project,” said Herkalo, president of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association Board.

“I would hope they would look at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum as that legacy that they would leave to the community and the nation.”

‘NATURAL EXTENSION’

Interest already exists.

Over time, Herkalo has noticed that those who grew up in or on the base itself stop there to show it to their children or relatives.

“They all have fond memories of the community here,” he said. “We have a situation where we’re not meeting a need.”

Even tourists with no connection to the area would stop, too, he said, looking for information about the base, which was home to the 380th Bombardment Wing.

Some will walk into the War of 1812 Museum and ask where the (presumed) Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum is located, Herkalo said.

“They come to see the airplanes; they bring their relatives. They wonder what happened (to the base,)” he said.

“It seems a natural extension that we would create a museum adjacent to the Clyde Lewis Air Park.”

Lewis, who died at age 95 in 2009, lobbied the Air Force to bring the Strategic Air Command base to the area in the 1950s.

One of the largest bases on the East Coast, it at one time hosted more than 4,000 military personnel and their dependents.

The base was closed in September 1995, a decision of the Federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

AVAILABLE BUILDING

Regardless of any level of public interest, the final decision lies with the Battle of Plattsburgh Association Board.

“We understand that this is a business decision, as far as the board is concerned,” Herkalo said, adding, “The board is very conscious of staying alive.”

Possibly making the process easier, though, is the fact that it already has suitable location.

“(And) it does not require that much to get it into shape.”

The building, now vacant, is on Washington Street on the former old base, across the street from — and the former home of — the War of 1812 Museum.

“It’s a wonderful spot, in my opinion,” Herkalo said.

Electric heating would need to be installed and the plumbing reconnected, he said. The inside would also need to be prepped for exhibits, he said.

“We have a building available. We’re going to use it for something,” even if it’s not for a museum.

ARTIFACTS NEEDED

Historical artifacts from the base were scattered after it was closed. Some went to an Air Force museum in Colorado, and others are now in the care of the Clinton County Historical Association, Herkalo said.

“Some pieces of it, frankly, disappeared, from what I can understand.”

At the meeting, attendees will be invited to share their knowledge of any Plattsburgh Air Force Base memorabilia that exists, where it is located and who can be contacted about arranging its use by the Battle of Plattsburgh Association for display in a new museum, Herkalo said.

Apart from historical materials, there’s the issue of funding.

“Display design and production costs money,” he noted.

He said the museum would start modestly.

If the board approves its creation, it would seek funding from museum memberships, donations and grants, Herkalo said.

PROOF IN PUDDING

Since word has gotten out about the informational meeting, Herkalo has gotten some emails and phone calls from people expressing interest.

“We’re expecting to see more,” he said.

Among them are veterans organizations, some of which have posted the proposal on their military retirees websites.

“It’s getting some viral content to it.”

At this point, it’s difficult to gauge whether the interest is great enough, Herkalo said.

“It’s somewhat of a challenge; not that it can’t be done.”

More will be known after the meeting.

“I like to say the proof is in the pudding.”

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.com

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IF YOU GO

A meeting on the proposed Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7,  in the Press-Republican Theater at the War of 1812 Museum, 31 Washington Road, Plattsburgh. For more information, contact Keith Herkalo at 420-7404 or email him at kherkalo@charter.net.

The next Battle of Plattsburgh Association Board of Director's meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, at the same location.