PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum is Keith Herkalo’s 3 a.m. idea realized.
After a slew of “Where’s the Base Museum?,” he decided to give visitors what they wanted.
There had been a museum, but it closed when the Plattsburgh Air Force Base shut down in 1995.
“Most of the assets went to the Air Force,” said Herkalo, who is the president of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association. “Some of it stayed here in Clinton County, and some of it, frankly, just disappeared.”
40-YEAR MISSION'S LEGACY
In a remarkably productive year, former Air Force military and civilian personnel, community members and college students have assembled a vibrant museum, a tribute to the Air Force’s 40-year mission here and the legacy of its personnel and the community.
Dave Deno manages both the War of 1812 Museum and the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum.
“I’ve always been fascinated with this area, particularly the base,” he said. “I was a civilian. I lived in Plattsburgh, and I was never allowed on here. I never knew anybody who lived here.
"It’s a secret city almost, and nobody knows about it. At least, I didn’t. I was really glad (the museum) came true."
SUNY Plattsburgh museum-studies interns Tyler Beck and Justin Villanyi conducted research. Denise Treacy, who attends a Maine college, assisted in exhibit design and installation.
Five hours and three minutes after Herkalo’s blue epiphany, he had speed-dialed retired Air Force Lt. Col. Frank Baehre, who articulated in exquisite detail to him why his idea was a no-go.
But then the association's museum charter offered the answer.
“Once we had that structure in place, we could go out and start raising funds,” said Baehre, who signed on as the PAFB Museum curator.
Museum memberships are $250/lifetime and $25/annual. The museum received monetary gifts, including a $3,375 grant from the Organization of Air Force Missileers.
"They gave us a large enough grant that we were able to start developing the museum," Baehre said.
The museum’s exhibits include a patch board, base timeline, a display of assigned aircraft, Life on Alert, Atlas Missile, and Life On and Off the Base.
On loan from the Clinton County Historical Association are three panels from its Cold War exhibit.
“One of our best resources was a large treasure trove of 35mm slides in six binders that really told the story of Plattsburgh Air Force Base,” Baehre said.
“We have been able to develop those into both our static panels that you can read about and also our changing LCD display panels, where you can watch a slide show basically of the three different areas in our main museum.”
USAF Col. (retired) Joseph P. McNichols chaired the museum committee.
“I look forward to more people joining the facility," he said. "Obviously, more donations will be handy."
He's still looking for the big, black Mark VI weapon that was used by the Munitions Maintenance Squadron for bomb-loading practice.
"I honestly think it’s up in Altona as a barbecue grill," McNichols said. "If people have things they think would be appropriate for the museum, contact us, bring it by, and we will see.
"If it fits, we’ll do something with it. If not, we may have it already. It’s always appreciated to see and get more things — that way, we can change and keep this place current and fresh.”
'TEACH THE YOUNG'UNS'
Area schools are queuing up for tours.
“It will fun to educate the young’uns on what it is, because there are so many people who don’t even know there was a base here,” McNichols said.
“My neighbor across the street, the kid said, 'What a great airport Clinton County built.' I’m sitting there (thinking), 'Oh man.'
"You just want to do something about it.”
A wish-list of electrical and heating materials for the museum and artifact storage in the association’s building was met by Champlain Valley Electric, Hynes Electric and Warren Electric.
“The IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) is going to be doing the electrical work for us — the apprenticeship program,” Herkalo said. “It’s incredible to have that facility right next to us, and they volunteered to do that.”
The museum’s board includes Bill VanStockum, who is also the Battle of Plattsburgh Association’s treasurer.
“Like most of the folks, I came up here in 1971 with the Air Force and retired in 1978 and stayed on,” said VanStockum, who was assigned to the 4007th Combat Crew Training Squadron.
“I’ve been here for 40-some years. It’s kind of home. Another 100 years, they will call me a local.”
USAF Col. (retired) Henry Wurster spent 16 of his 24 service years at PAFB.
"I think the wing was one of the best wings in the Air Force for many years," he said. "And the people of Plattsburgh had a large part in that with their support, and they deserve a museum and a remembrance, and it’s important for the kids.”
He’s excited to meet the seventh-graders scheduled to visit.
“It’s important that they remember what the people of Plattsburgh and the people of the Air Force did over all those years we were here,” Wurster said. “This is a great start, and I look forward to working on it in the future.”
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IF YOU GO WHAT: Grand opening of Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum. Participants include speakers John Stone and Keith Herkalo and the U.S. Civil Air Patrol James P. O'Connor Composite Squadron's Color Guard. WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday, June 7. WHERE: 31 Washington Road on the former Old Base, Plattsburgh. ADMISSION: Free as part of Museum Days on Saturday, June 7, and Sunday, June 8.