The zealous first grade teacher, eager to pour useful knowledge into the youngsters’ minds, wanted them to know early on about museums. She spoke slowly, offering tidbits she thought might be particularly interesting to this age group.

Some of them were wide-eyed, and several hands went up. Johnny waved his arm like a scarecrow in the pumpkin patch.

He asked, “Are you telling us that museums are kinda like zoos, except everything in ‘em are dead?” ...

***

This vignette came to mind during a recent tour of the Freedom Museum USA in Pampa, Texas. The all-military museum opened a dozen years ago. It is a testament to the determination, commitment, vision and plain old hard work by folks who want to make sure Americans remember the high cost of freedom.

“We’ve operated on a wing and a prayer from day one,” a VFW member said. (The VFW Post 1657 operates the ever-expanding museum, depending totally on gifts from individuals, businesses and foundations.)

It is housed in an old water-pumping station built by the PWA (Public Works Administration) in 1939. The city deeded it to the museum, and continues to “water and mow” the grass. That’s the extent of governmental support. ...

***

Located near downtown, the museum is hard to miss. Several military vehicles surround the building, including a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter. It’s mounted on a steel pedestal several feet above the roof line.

“When you spot the helicopter, you’ll find the museum under it,” a local mentioned.

The helicopter became a conversation piece, particularly when it sprang a leak. ...

***

Though patriotic to the core, the folks who make the museum tick don’t claim to be experts on anything. They weren’t sure what to do when the helicopter’s floppity 50-foot rotor blade it started whirling in a high wind.

“We were scared the helicopter might take off if the wind got stronger, so we tethered the blade on each end,” one man said.

It turned out to be a bad decision. One day a strong wind snapped the ropes. They said the whirling blades sounded like a scene from TV’s Mash. Then, an oil seal broke. ...

***

What a mess! The blades threw oil as far as four houses away, so the vets had serious apologies — and clean-ups — on their hands.

They re-thought the tethering idea and put the ropes away. The blades now spin as they will.

“If the thing takes off, it takes off,” one of the museum people said. ...

***

The museum is open to the public from noon until 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. But, like aggressive automobile salesmen who’ll “meet us at any hour if they know we’re coming,” museum leaders will work the same deal for groups.

Among the people passing through annually are the thousand or so students from area high schools. Some of them have limited knowledge of what has gone before, particularly World War II.

One area high schooler asked, “If we hadn’t bombed the Japanese, do you think they would have attacked us?” And she was serious. ...

***

Memorabilia is largely from World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. But, there also are Civil War and Wright Brothers exhibits. Many of their holdings are stored for exhibit later.

When you are in the area, stop by. You’ll reek of patriotism upon seeing the exhibits and meeting folks giving most of their waking hours to the cause. The men and women supporting the Freedom Museum expect to link arms soon with veterans returning from Iraq.

The new vets will be invited to join a bunch of Pampa patriots who line up alongside Horace Mann, the “Father of American Education.” More than 150 years ago, he wrote: “No man escapes when freedom fails. The best men rot in filthy jails. And those who cried, ‘Appease, appease,’ are hanged by those they tried to please.” ...

***

May God bless America. May He likewise bless veterans, and may our flag long wave.

Finally, may citizens who want to help the Freedom Museum lay down the cash for granite blocks on the two walkways. One is for the vets; the other for friends.

After all, here’s the chance to see our names in granite before we’re under it. ...

—————

Dr. Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose column appears weekly in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries — call him at 817-447-3872 or send email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. His website is: www.speakerdoc.com.

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