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McChord Air Museum reopens

  • Published
  • By By Airman 1st class Charles Casner
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The McChord Air Museum reopened its doors after being closed for almost two years at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, February 22, 2022.

The museum gives visitors opportunities to learn about McChord Field’s significant history.

“It's important for us to tell McChord’s history,” said Shon Zawada, McChord Air Museum curator. “There's a lot of history here that people aren't aware of, like a bunch of the Doolittle Raiders came from McChord. We were also the first base to get the B-25 Mitchell.”

The museum is  home to a multitude of McChord artifacts. “We have some of Colonel McChords personal belongings,” Zawada said. “We also have a training simulator for loadmasters, we have an F-106 simulator, World War II uniforms and a few trinkets from the war that the 62nd Airlift Wing collected.”

Former 62nd AW Historian Fred Johnson established the museum in 1982, and it was officially approved by the U.S. Air Force Museum in 1983. McChord Field has a varied history of bombers, fighters and transport planes. Johnson wanted to show off what McChord has been a part of to not only the public, but incoming Airmen and Soldiers for years to come. 

“McChord Air Museum started out in a little building on Heritage Hill,” said Ernie White, McChord Air Museum gift store manager. “From there, we planned to move across from Holiday Park, but it ultimately did not go through due to issues with the soil not being able to hold a building or airplanes. For a short period of time, we didn't have a building or any place to go. Around 1990, we managed to get the current building and it has been here since.”

The base’s mission has changed throughout the years and having a museum to document and showcase its evolution can help better the understanding of Team McChord as it stands today.

“Everybody thinks McChord is just the base where we have transport planes,” White said. “Going back in history, there's a lot of things that happened here at McChord. It started out as a bomber training base and for the middle part of the 20th century it was basically one of the top interceptor bases here in Washington state. It all ties up to where McChord is now with transport.”

The COVID-19 pandemic caused complications all over the world, and the McChord Air Museum was included in mass closures worldwide.

“For protection to our volunteers who are older and protection of the folks around McChord, the wing leadership felt it needed to close the building in March 2020,” White said.

Almost two  years after closing, the McChord Air Museum decided to reopen its doors.“Everybody wanted it to be open again,” Zawanda said. “With leadership's approval we reopened. It gives people a chance to finally get out of their house and a place to go see.”

With being closed for almost two  years, it was not as simple as just reopening, there were procedures to follow. 

”It was a challenge following all the guidelines. Cleaning was another issue, imagine having a building closed for almost two years,” Zawanda said. “There were a lot of spider webs and dust. Thanks to the airman leadership school, they came over and helped me clean everything and dust everything. They did some yard work outside and helped me rake up leaf piles in the very back. 

Now that the Air Museum is open again, they are looking forward to what the future holds with a potential new location.

“The major plan we have is moving to our restoration hangar,” said White. “So expanding is actually condensing our operation from three buildings to one location. Right now we have this building, the restoration hangar, and the old fighter area. Our plans are to move everything to that hangar, have a museum and restoration in the same building closer to the airplanes.”

The McChord Air Museum reopening gives people the ability to study and learn about our preserved history of pride and discipline. McChord Field present and future could potentially never exist without its storied past, and the air museum tries to make sure that history is never forgotten.