Aviation History Comes to Life

It's been a long wait for an aviation museum in Hawaii. Thus, the opening on December 7 of the Pacific Aviation Museum was greeted with visible pleasure by the Pearl Harbor survivors who had convened in Honolulu for the ceremonies surrounding the 65th anniversary of the attack on Oahu that brought the United States into World War II.  World War II veterans Maeda (left) and Rauschkolb meet at the Dec. 7 opening

Your clients who are history or aviation buffs or who have ties to the war will need no coaxing to set aside time for this new interactive museum and its meticulously restored WW II aircraft. For others, though, a mention of the very human stories behind the displays is likely to spur interest. Displays include a rare Japanese Zero fighter, which was shrouded in mystique during the war; and an even rarer American Wildcat fighter—it's one of about seven such aircraft still in existence and probably the best restored, says Allan Palmer, the museum's executive director and CEO.

Another display shows the remains of one of the Zeros piloted in the attack on Pearl Harbor whose pilot brought it in for a hard landing on the island of Niihau in hopes of a post-attack rendezvous. Museum visitors who look at the pieces of the plane will notice that its skin is cut away in numerous places and its hydraulics, landing gear, engine and other elements of interest to the U.S. military were removed for study by investigators, explains Syd Jones, the museum's restoration director, who worked on the recovery efforts on Niihau this summer. (Those holes? They were made to ensure nothing of interest was overlooked.) Palmer adds that the Zero was top secret and very little was known about it outside Japan; in fact, the pilot of the downed aircraft set the cockpit ablaze.

A key component of the museum's appeal, however, is the human element—supplied in part by the volunteer docents, a number of whom worked to spiff up the historic aircraft.

Kathryn "KT" Budde-Jones, education director, tells Travel Agent that the heart of the museum is the very human stories visitors will hear—stories the staff and docents already know, as well as reminiscences they'll gather from visitors as time goes by.

Indeed, at least one vet who attended the grand opening was volunteering to provide mementoes, and Palmer expects to continue adding to the displays in the first phase of the museum in coming months, even as plans proceed for the next phase of the museum.

Perhaps one of the stories docents will tell in coming days is of the conversation two WW II vets shared in the shadow of the Zero the day the museum opened. Pilot Takeshi Maeda and third-class signalman John Rauschkolb talked about their memories of December 7 and of times since. Touched by emotion, their handshake turned into a hug. Rauschkolb, who served aboard the USS West Virginia, fought fires and helped with rescue and recovery following the morning attack.

"Old enemies have become great friends," says Rauschkolb. "The past is the past. We have a future. That's what you have to look at."

The museum is open daily; admission is $14 for adults, $7 for kids 4-12. An aviators tour is available for an extra $7 per person; ask about flight simulation bookings. The travel agent liaison is Jean Navarra, director of marketing and business development, jeann@pacificaviationmuseum.org. Call 808-441-1000 or visit www.pacificaviationmuseum.org.