Celebration a decade in the makingThe Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center is throwing a party for the community.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center is throwing a party for the community. Next week’s celebration will be punctuated by a film screening, a guest speaker, a flag raising and the opening of a new exhibit, “The Twin Ports in the Cold War.” As more incentive to join in the fun, admission is free all week.
“Once they get in here, they’ll see what we have to offer,” said Mavis Moran, a retired history teacher who volunteers at the center. “It’s the best-kept secret in Superior.”
The Cold War spanned from 1946 to 1991. It introduced the U.S. to fallout shelters and “duck and cover drills.” It also put the Twin Ports on the front lines.
That was the bomber era, said Bong Center Executive Director Bob Furhrman, when Russian planes would most likely fly over the North Pole to attack. The Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing, based in Duluth, was a crucial defense point. A map detailing Cold War installations is part of the new exhibit, which opens Tuesday. A timeline that follows both the nation and the air base as well as audio snippets from those decades will also be featured.
Other anniversary events include a community day Tuesday, a presentation by former commander of the Duluth Air National Guard base Brigadier General Ray Klosowski at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and a screening of “The Boy from Poplar” at 10 a.m. Saturday, complete with popcorn. All events are free and open to the public.
Friday at 9 a.m., the American Legion Honor Guard will raise a flag in honor of Poplar’s own Dick Bong, America’s Ace of Aces. Everyone is invited to attend.
“The American Legion does that rain or shine” every week, Fuhrman. Sometimes the flag is for a specific veteran, other times for a group of veterans. Legion members also offer military salutes for veteran funerals in the area.
“They’re a great group of guys,” he said, and they have a brotherhood of shared experience that holds them together.
“Even though they are from different branches of service, different years, it had a huge impact on their lives,” Fuhrman said.
The Richard I. Bong WWII Heritage Center opened 10 years ago. It honored Bong, who piloted a P-38 Lightning through more than 200 missions over the Southwest Pacific in World War II and destroyed 40 enemy planes — the most by any United States pilot before or since.
“I wondered what he would think of all this hoopla,” said his widow, Marge Bong Drucker, at the opening ceremony for the center on Sept. 24, 2002. “It’s his name, but it’s in honor of all veterans of World War II. I think he’d be proud.”
Three years ago, the center’s scope widened to encompass veterans beyond World War II. The change came about because veterans who served in Korea and Vietnam toured the center and asked if there would one day be a spot for them.
“It’s a huge compliment to a museum to have people ask you to tell their story,” Fuhrman said. So they did. The center has a section devoted to the Korean and Vietnam wars, close to the site of the new Cold War exhibit.
U.S. Navy veteran John Kanzler served on the USS Colorado during WWII. His tour of duty took him from the Marinara Islands to the Philippines to Okinawa. When he heard they were going to open the center in 2002 he thought, “Finally they’re going to have something for us guys.”
When the center expanded its mission, Kanzler approved.
“What they’re trying to do is cover all vets,” he said. “Because every one of them did the job they were sent to do.”
Chris Owen has been volunteering at the center since it opened.
“It is a symbol of recognition of the efforts and the losses and of course a lot of the people who had it a lot tougher than I did, and I still respect and miss them,” said Owen, who served in the navy during the Vietnam War.
About 10,000 visitors drop by the center each year. It contains 7,000 artifacts, including a restored P-38 Lightning. It also holds more than 300 oral histories from veterans from WWII to the present. Those histories, Fuhrman said, are among the most important pieces in the collection. His dream is to make them available through the website to share with everyone.
For more information on the center and anniversary week events, call (715) 392-7151 or go to www.bvhcenter.org.