Renovations, new exhibits for Enlisted Heritage Hall

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE GUNTER ANNEX, Ala. -- Visitors to Gunter Annex's Enlisted Heritage Hall, the only Air Force museum dedicated to preserving the contributions and heroics of enlisted members, may not notice the two biggest problems curators face there, but they are sure to notice the solutions.

"We have two problems here regarding our exhibits," said Bill Chivalette, museum curator. "One is that this is an old building, and second, it is very hard to control the atmosphere."

Mr. Chivalette and the other employees at EHH are currently working on more than 25 exhibits to renovate, develop and preserve the thousands of artifacts, uniforms and displays to tell some very compelling stories.

The Khobar Towers exhibit is being revamped to completely seal the display case, Mr. Chivalette said. That will help preserve artifacts and uniforms housed inside.

"Khobar Towers is the second most emotional display in the museum, exceeded only by the Vietnam POW cell," he said. "People come in and often stand for long periods of time just looking at the exhibit. Some with tears in their eyes."

Another display under construction commemorates Sgt. Archibald Mathies, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient.

"This is a true hero's story," he said. "During a bombing mission over Europe in February 1944, his B-17 developed engine trouble and was being attacked by enemy fighters from all angles. Most of the crew had to bail out, but because the pilot was wounded, Sergeant Mathies, who was the ball turret gunner and had some flying experience, stayed and tried to land the damaged aircraft. The plane was badly shot up and hard to control, and on the third attempt to land, the wing tip hit a raised area near the runway causing the B-17 to cart-wheel, killing everyone inside."

"Gunner's Alley" will occupy a fairly large area in the original museum to honor enlisted members who served as aircraft gunners during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the current conflicts.

The Air Force Cross exhibit is being completely redesigned and will have "stunning graphics" and the names and photos of enlisted members who received the medal, Mr. Chivalette said. Work also continues on the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force exhibits, and the "21-mannequin case" display that features all Air Force enlisted uniforms from 1947 to the present.

"One day, while I was working on Air Force Reserve Chief Master Sgt. G.L. Bryant's uniform, a guy with a full beard and sunglasses came in and asked what I was doing. At that time, I didn't have many artifacts for the exhibit, but I explained to him what I hoped the display was going to show," Mr. Chivalette said. "A few days later, I received a package that contained all of Chief Bryant's stuff. It turned out the guy I was talking to was G.L. Bryant. He never identified himself, but after our conversation, he decided to donate his old gear to the museum. With the beard and glasses, I just didn't recognize him."

A section of the new "Berlin to Baghdad" wing is dedicated to Air Force explosive ordnance disposal personnel, complete with a bomb robot, the career field uniform and a bomb disposal suit. Mr. Chivalette said this exhibit honors "those who lost their lives or have been maimed" doing the dangerous job of handling explosive devices.

Another exhibit still in the works in the new wing depicts Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman in desert gear. Both were killed in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002, doing their jobs as a pararescue jumper and combat controller, respectively.

"Since they often encountered cold weather, I'm using snow instead of sand for the Cunningham display," Mr. Chivalette said. "This caused a problem. I have to use a special fake snow that is free of chemicals that would harm the artifacts, and it wasn't easy to find."

Among other new and refurbished displays is the Humanitarian Airlift exhibit that tells the story of U.S. humanitarian aid from 1919 to the present. The security forces display, which includes uniforms from the Strategic Air Command, Vietnam eras and Air Force dog handlers, explains the role of security forces from 1947 to today. The role of enlisted members during the Vietnam War is featured in another exhibit in the new wing, as well as a photographic and kiosk display describing the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Mr. Chivalette said he and other EHH personnel are working hard on the new and refurbished exhibits to improve the museum for those who visit.

"Even if you have visited EHH before, come by again," he said. "You will find something new."