Military memorabilia museum opening soon at Naples airport

Naples Municipal Airport Terminal

Naples Municipal Airport Terminal

Fast facts

Initially, the museum, a nonprofit organization, will feature about eight scale-size model planes inside the terminal, including the World War II Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 — the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan.

The scale-size model plane has a wing span of 52 inches, and a body length of 39 inches by 14 inches high.

— What began as a military airfield base soon will house World War II memorabilia.

The Museum of Military Memorabilia is slated to open Aug. 1 in the commercial terminal at Naples Municipal Airport. The opening will coincide with Keep the Spirit of ‘45 Alive observances.

Later this year, the museum is planning a grand opening for Veterans Day, Nov. 11, museum president Robert McDonald said.

“It’s very important to us to preserve military history that isn’t taught in school anymore and to honor all those who have served,” said McDonald, of Punta Gorda.

McDonald, 70, served in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1962 and as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division from January 1960 to July 1962.

The Naples Airport Authority voted unanimously in June to provide free space at the Naples airport for the museum.

Initially, the museum, a nonprofit organization, will feature about eight scale-size model planes inside the terminal, including the World War II Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 — the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan. The scale-size model plane has a wing span of 52 inches, and a body length of 39 inches by 14 inches high.

All aviation memorabilia from World War II will be showcased in the 900-square-foot space in the airport’s commercial service terminal along North Road.

Currently, the museum is constructing display cases to exhibit photos, medals, flight jackets, uniforms and newspaper clippings.

Later in the year, the museum will add memorabilia from WWI, Korea and Vietnam wars, along with a few items from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Museum of Military Memorabilia was founded in 2006 and has accumulated more than 10,000 artifacts for public viewing.

Airport officials believe the museum is a great fit, since the airport originally was constructed in 1942 as the “Naples Airdrome” that served as an Air Corps base during WWII for training gunners, bomber crews and fighter pilots, airport deputy executive director Sheila Dugan said.

McDonald has been collecting military memorabilia for more than 50 years.

Although it’s hard for McDonald to say what his favorite item is, one of his favorites is a custom-made brass belt buckle that his cousin — a paratrooper with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team during the Korean War — got in Japan. It was McDonald’s first item given to him at age 12 by his cousin when he came home after the war in 1953.

When McDonald joined the Army in 1959 to be a paratrooper like his cousin, he wore his cousin’s buckle, McDonald recalled.

If you go

The Museum of Military Memorabilia will have WWII exhibits and artifacts on display at three locations throughout August:

■ Naples Backyard History’s Old Naples Museum, 1170 Third St. S., Naples, weekdays from noon to 5 p.m.

■ Naples City Hall, 735 Eighth St. S., Naples, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

■ Naples Municipal Airport, 160 Aviation Drive N., Naples, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission to the museum, which will be open seven days a week, will be a donation.

Airport Authority board member Linda Flewelling sees the museum as an opportunity for students to experience history.

“I hope schools will bring students for tours,” Flewelling said in a prepared statement. “The visibility of the museum may also encourage people to donate their military memorabilia.”

The Collier County school system looks forward to learning more about the museum so schools are able to utilize it as a resource, district spokeswoman Leanne Zinser said in an email.

Zinser said the district is sure the museum will provide worthwhile opportunities for students and teachers alike to explore and learn more about military history.

In addition, the Naples Backyard History is supportive of the museum.

Lois Bolin of Naples Backyard History is coordinating the Keep the Spirit of ’45 effort in Collier County. Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive is a national effort to remind America of the values and accomplishments of the generation who endured the hard times of the Great Depression, according to a prepared statement.

The Museum of Military Memorabilia will have WWII exhibits and artifacts on display at three locations throughout August: Naples Backyard History’s Old Naples Museum, 1170 Third St. S., Naples, weekdays from noon to 5 p.m.; Naples City Hall, 735 Eighth St. S., Naples, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Naples Municipal Airport, 160 Aviation Drive N., Naples, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

__ Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/

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