On March 16, community members attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a new veterans museum in Costa Mesa, California, reported the Daily Pilot. An army barracks from World War II will serve as the main structure for the museum. Builders say it will be done by Nov. 11, 2016.
Preserving a piece of history
The Department of Defense, in 1941, constructed the Santa Ana Army Air Base on a swath of land that encompasses modern-day Costa Mesa, reported The Orange County Register. The site was a key training facility for more than 100,000 pilots during World War II, many of whom went on to serve in the Pacific Theater. Pilots who trained at the base spent most of their time in classrooms studying Morse code and solving the complex mathematics that go into operating combat aircraft.
"One of the most popular postcards at the [base] was a picture of a guy carrying a full pack saying, 'You have to walk a hell of a long way before you learn how to fly,'" Norman French, an Army veteran and former B-17 pilot, told the Daily Pilot.
After the war, SAAAB fell into disrepair and many of its 800 building were bulldozed to make way for the Orange County Fairgrounds.
In 2012, the OC Fair & Event Center Board of Directors expressed interest in expanding the Pacific Amphitheatre, an 8,200-seat performance space that sits on the fairgrounds. As a result, the Memorial Gardens Building, an old barrack once part of the SAAAB campus, was targeted for demolition. However, after protests from community members and local veterans, fair officials chose to move the structure, instead. And, in September 2013, the 4,800-square-foot building was relocated to a new plot nearby.
"I still can't believe it. It's surreal," Bob Palazzola, former president of the Costa Mesa Historical Society and a key advocate for the building's survival, said in an interview with the Daily Pilot. "It's nice to see talk become action in something like this, really. I thought we were really against the odds."
Remembering the past with something new
The museum, called Heroes Hall, will encompass around 12,000 square feet and include an outdoor pavilion and garden. On opening day, the museum will feature two exhibits: one on "The Things They Carried," a Vietnam War novel by author Tim O'Brien and another that will cover the history of SAAAB.
"Here we are," Palazzola told the Daily Pilot. "We're right at the threshold of something really great."