Some thoughts after visiting the Air Force Museum

The National Museum of the US Air Force is located in Dayton, Ohio.  It’s about one hour away from where I live.  Having lived in Ohio for almost 20 years, I always thought about visiting the museum.  For some reason, it had not become a reality until lately.

This summer, I went there not just once, but twice, thanks to my early retirement.

I went to Dayton in the end of June to see two things: the museum and the Air Show.  I didn’t know how much time was needed for the museum.  It turned out the scheduled 2 hours were far from enough.  The museum is huge, and I decided to come back soon.

After a quick stop at the museum, I had to rush out to catch the Air Show.  It was fantastic to see the Blue Angels soaring in the blue sky.  Such a proud and wonderful feeling to see the Air Show.

Six weeks later, I went back to the museum.  After spending 6 hours there, there are still probably half left and I haven’t got time to see yet.  Next time.

So far, I saw the sections of Presidential, Research & Development, Early Years, and Korean War.

The admission and parking is free.  It sits next to the Air Force base.  Here are some of my thoughts.

SAM 26000 (Air Force One):

This is the airplane that carried 8 US presidents from 1962 to 1998.  Here are the details from the museum web site.

I became so emotional when standing next to this beautiful airplane.  It recorded 36 years of American history.

In November 1963, President John F. Kennedy boarded this airplane the last time to Dallas, through the rear entrance.  There was a picture on display, showing JFK waving his left hand to the crowd from the stairs.

Also on this airplane, Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the presidential oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy on his side.

That huge tragedy changed America forever …

Sometimes I wonder what if JFK didn’t make that trip, what if on and on.

What happened was so shocking and heartbreaking to America and the whole world.

This was the same airplane President Nixon took in February 1972 when he visited China.  That historic trip thawed the hostile relationship between America and China.

As a Chinese American, I felt that trip was so special.  It helped China to open its doors gradually, to learn and accept the world, instead of being a closely-minded hermit.

That trip made it possible for many Chinese like me to come to America, and many Americans to know better about China.

Before then, in many Americans’ eyes, probably the image of China was more related to the General Tso’s Chicken, Sweet & Sour Chicken, or the fortune cookies they saw in the Americanized Chinese restaurants.

I read one memoir by Helen Thomas: “Front Row At The White House: My Life and Times”.  Ms. Thomas was a White House correspondent for over half a century.  Her beautiful career spanned even longer than this airplane’s mission.

In her book, she talked quite a lot about the trips she took with the presidents on Air Force One.  She had a lot of funny stories.

She was in Beijing with President Nixon in 1972.  It was eye-opening for her to see China the first time, the way people dressed, ate, and lived, and how the westerners were being treated.

Every place they visited, there were always official Chinese tour guides with them.  Not because the journalists were well beloved there, but because they could only see what they were allowed to see.  Everything had been rehearsed then.

Ms. Thomas also mentioned about that bulky chair “the throne” Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) had on Air Force One, the President loved it.  That’s hilarious.

When I was walking through the aisle on Air Force One, I was thinking about that big chair.

I heard that, when LBJ leaving the office, that chair was unbolted from the floor, and brought to LBJ’s home in Texas.  Wow, what a pirate story.

It was said that, the Nixons didn’t like that chair anyway.  Placing it in the LBJ library is probably much better than ending up in the landfill place.

Next time when visiting Austin, I got to check the LBJ library about that chair.

The airplane looked big from outside.  But when I walked in, it seemed much narrower and lower than the regular 747s or 777s.  One of the reasons could be: the two sides were screened and blocked.  I could see it, but can’t touch it.

Anyway, walking through Air Force One was a thrill.

Korean War:

Growing up in mid 1960s in China, I heard totally different stories about the Korean War.  And I believed it, as I didn’t have a choice then.

Now I’m glad I have a choice.

The Chinese propaganda was always praising their heroes: they were not afraid the enemy Americans, and were willing to sacrifice their lives.  Their mission was the most glorious one on earth: to liberate the whole world.

I have one aunt.  Her husband went to the Korean War as part of the Chinese Liberation Army.  He died about ten years ago.

When living close to him, I was way too young.  I didn’t have any questions to ask.  He only told us that, it was a very tough time in Korea, and the weather was brutal.  For some reason, the adults didn’t talk much about the war either at that time.

Now I wish I had time to sit down and talk with him about the Korean War, as I have tons of questions.

I want to know his experience, what he saw, what he and his fellows were thinking then, if he witnessed anyone being injured or killed, if he saw any American soldiers, etc.

But, he’s gone.  What a regret.

As a Korean war veteran, he got a tiny government pension for some years.  It was about $5 per month.  It was really not much even in that remote village.

But, he decided to save it, instead of spending it.  Why?  He wanted to save that money in order to have a decent funeral for himself later.  A funeral seemed more important than the life.  That was very hard for me to understand.

At the museum, I learnt the stories about the POWs.  That’s very interesting.  Saw some Chinese-brand cigarettes that were given to American POWs.  And some Chinese POWs decided to stay in South Korea or go to Taiwan.  That’s something I never heard about before.

Quick Summary:

I love that Air Force Museum, and like to see the rest in the near future.

Have you been that museum in Dayton?  Which sections would you be interested in?

  • Presidential
  • Research & Development
  • Early Years (including World War I)
  • World War II
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Cold War
  • Space & Missile
  • Or shopping at the museum store

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4 Responses

  1. GYM says:

    Thank you for sharing your trip recap! I always like reading your blog posts from your lens because of your experience in China growing up in the 1960’s! I have never been to Dayton, one day when I rent an RV I will make sure to add this to the to see list!

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi GYM, thank you. The 1960s in China was a wild time. Minds were twisted, and colors were altered. Somehow I survived.

      Renting an RV sounds like a great idea.

  2. Hi Helen, Great post. Several of my friends and I went to that museum in 1986. I remember the time well since I just graduated from college. They did an annual summer air show back then too which was just awesome to see. That is mainly why we went. I bet a lot has changed since I was there. Tom

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Tom, it’s good to know you went to that museum before. I was always thinking about going to see that Air Force One, as I heard Nixon took it when he visited China. When I finally went there, I realized the museum was so huge, and they got tons of great stuff, some as big as airplane, some as small as a cigarette box or a dog tag.

      Yeah, the air show was great, too. I didn’t know the air show has been going on for that many years.

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