Museum eager for aid to honor all who served

Eddie Enrique seen with a 1942 Taylorcraft L2M plane at Modesto Airport,  And the Modesto chapter of the Commemorative Air Force Hope avaition and history buffs will john their education and preservation efforts.
Eddie Enrique seen with a 1942 Taylorcraft L2M plane at Modesto Airport, And the Modesto chapter of the Commemorative Air Force Hope avaition and history buffs will john their education and preservation efforts. Modesto Bee

The way Eddie Enrique sees it, a war museum is a necessary thing -- an essential thing.

What better way to honor the sacrifices made by our nation's soldiers, and, at the same time, preserve their stories for future generations?

Enrique, 74, is operations officer for the Modesto chapter of the Commemorative Air Force.

The CAF, headquartered in Midland, Texas, is a worldwide group striving to keep that kind of history alive.

"We're trying to bring to people's attention, especially younger people, the contributions made by those who served our nation."

Though the museum, based in an airplane hangar at Modesto Airport, focuses on artifacts from World War II and the Korean War, Enrique says its long-term goal is to represent all wars from a Stanislaus County perspective.

In fact, a group of CAF members has started work on the restoration of another World War II-vintage airplane.

But don't get the wrong idea.

The CAF's mission doesn't end with the display and restoration of period aircraft, vehicles and other items that proved essential to survival on the battlefields of long ago.

"We're planning a 'Gold-Star Wall,' " Enrique said. "It will be (inscribed) with all the names of all those from Stanislaus County who gave their lives in every war that's been fought, right down to today."

Enrique is concerned, however, that word about the museum is not getting out. The museum needs donations, lots of donations, to realize its goal. That's just not happening at the moment.

Perhaps, I suggested to Enrique, there's a correlation with the war in Iraq and that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to see our troops pulled out of there ASAP, before they morph into a permanent occupation force.

Enrique shook his head.

"No," he said. "I don't think so. We're paying tribute to all our servicemen from Stanislaus County. This is a way for them to be remembered for what they've done for us."

That's the key.

In every generation, men and women willingly have put themselves in harm's way when called upon by our nation's leaders, leaving the political considerations for someone else to sort out.

Unfortunately, there are times when leadership fails them.

But that doesn't diminish their sacrifice.

That doesn't mean we should ignore them or forget them.

Enrique was a child when Japan launched an air attack on the U.S. Navy installation at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that pushed America into World War II.

In a way, he said, he's a "wanna-be," someone who would have served during World War II had he been old enough.

He remembers that period as a very different time in American life.

It was a time the nation pulled together, for the most part, uniting against a common enemy for the common good.

"I'm hoping," Enrique said, "that kind of patriotism is coming back."

For him, it all boils down to the stories.

Personal stories of survival and sacrifice.

The kind of stories, Enrique said, that aren't being told and retold enough these days.

"We're not trying to glorify war," he said. "Once we get up and running, we will invite all the schools to bring the kids here for history lessons."

Despite a lack of artifacts, and a still developing venue, members of the public can make an appointment to visit the hangar-turned-museum.

In September, the CAF holds a dinner and dance -- make that a World War II USO-style dinner and dance -- at the hangar. A number of World War II-vintage airplanes are on display and veterans are asked to wear their uniforms.

Music from the 1930s and 1940s is featured, performed by Knight Sounds, a Modesto- based group of musicians who donate their time to raise money for music scholarships.

The hangar dance is one of the CAF's biggest fund-raisers.

But you don't have to wait until then to check out the museum or get to know Enrique or other members of the group.

"We're a nonprofit," he said. "All donations, whether it's money or a (vintage) vehicle like that jeep over there, are tax deductible."

New members, Enrique added, always are welcome. And you don't need to be a former pilot to join.

"All you have to have," he said, "is a love of aviation and history."

So, drop by anytime.

Be sure to bring your curiosity and an open mind.

The checkbook is optional.

To make a donation, schedule a museum visit or learn more about the Commemorative Air Force, contact Eddie Enrique at 324-3093 or Modesto CAF Squadron Cmdr. Dennis Cummins at 996-5753.

Mike Mooney's column appears every Friday in Local News. He can be reached at mmooney@modbee.com or 578-2384.