History is a gift that does not come in pretty wrapping paper. Instead, it comes through the blood, sweat, and tears of generations who dared to stand up and stand out. It is difficult and heartbreaking, yet exciting and triumphant simultaneously.
Greene County, located in Southwestern Ohio, is home to two outstanding museums that pay homage to our collective past.
In 2023, The National Museum of the United States Air Force™ celebrates its 100th Anniversary. Since 1923 the museum has grown from a small engineering study collection to the world’s largest military aviation museum. Located at Wright Patterson Air Force base, outside Dayton, the museum collects, conserves and presents the rich history of the U.S. Air Force (USAF). As stewards of this historical collection, the museum seeks to share its diverse resources through educational outreach, exciting exhibits, and special programs demonstrating military aviation’s global impact for over 100 years.
From the Wright Brothers’ legacy, which began on the base’s land, to the over 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display, the museum pays homage to the past while embracing the future of flight.
Throughout the museum, collections and exhibits highlight the marvels and wonders of air power heritage from the earliest days of military aviation through modern flight and space exploration. Airlift has long been a part of the mission of the USAF. The Global Reach Gallery honors this with a display of the C-141, nicknamed the Hanoi Taxi, which lifted the first American prisoners of war out of Hanoi, North Vietnam, in 1973. Many of these men had been held captive for several years.
“It is so incredible! I was just in awe! Several things moved me to tears. My most memorable display is the Air Force One that carried President Kennedy’s body. Jackie did not want him traveling alone in the bottom of the plane. They removed seats to allow the casket to fit in the passenger area. It was very emotional,” said Holly Ellen Roby, a visitor.
Beyond the fascinating galleries, the museum also offers simulators, run by the Air Force Museum Foundation, that put you right into the action. The Movie Ride is a motion simulator that offers five different rides that can take you through the farthest regions of outer space, through aviation history, or flying through the air in the Red Baron. The I 360 Ride allows the pilot and gunner to engage in simulated air combat, while The VR Transporter with 3D goggles and motion platform puts you into the seat of a WWII Sherman tank at the Battle of the Bulge. The simulators provide an experience like no other.
The museum’s vision of honoring every Airman’s story is palpable throughout the countless displays and memorabilia. While looking back, The National Museum of the Air Force is keeping its eye on the future of flight in America and beyond. Admission and parking are free.
The National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center (NAAMCC), located just 30 minutes from the Air Force Museum, is home to one of the largest collections reflecting the African American experience. Artifacts, manuscripts, artwork, and personal items depict the comprehensive struggles and successes of those who have made history locally, nationally, and globally.
Opened In 1988, the museum established itself as a national leader in sharing the achievements and struggles of Black American people from enslavement to the present day. Current exhibits include diverse topics such as Black Protest Art, the history of the Wilberforce community, and the story of African Americans who have served our country for over 200 years. Their NAAMCC archives and educational materials are used by researchers and museums worldwide and host educational programming, school field trips, and tours for local communities and organizations.
The museum’s exhibits reflect its extensive collections, which include over 9,000 artifacts. Using storytelling and eye-catching graphics, the museum encourages visitors to pause, reflect and connect with the pieces through text and imagery.
Contemporary, relevant, and unique exhibits appeal to visitors across all spectrums of interest. Three exciting shows on display include African Americans fighting for a Double Victory, Queens of the Heartland and Behind the Mask: Black Power in Comics.
Blacks have been comic book characters and creators for much longer than many realize. The first Black Panther comic book was released in 1966. Behind the Mask chronicles the painful and triumphant history of Blacks in comics. The exhibit closes February 25, 2023, but an updated version will open next year in March 2024.
Queens of the Heartland tells the stories of 30 women who have significantly influenced the suffrage and civil rights movement from the 19th century to the courageous women of today. The stories are vast and continue to create a path forward for women today.
As humans evolve, so does our understanding, leaving us responsible for preserving the facts and expanding our knowledge about history’s impact on our future. Museums play an integral part in our future. These two museums and museums across the country are working to make history relevant to today’s audience.
“Real history tells the best stories,” said Dr. Charles Wash, NAAMCC Director.
2023 brings many new and exciting programs and events for both museums. Please visit their respective websites, The United States Air Force Museum at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil and the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center at www.ohiohistory.org/naamcc for all the latest information and to plan your next great adventure in Greene County.