Wrapping up our latest Touring Texoma series, we're stopping at a place that can evoke a wide- range of emotions for people who go there.
It's the National Vietnam War Museum in Mineral Wells.
Just about every helicopter pilot who flew in Vietnam first learned to fly in the Mineral Wells area.
So, when the local chapter of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's Association came together about 20- years ago, Wanting to build a museum, it just seemed perfect to build it right here in Texoma.
The museum is not a helicopter museum, though.
Its mission is to promote an understanding of the Vietnam era for everyone, While honoring those who served.
Jim Messinger/National Vietnam War Museum: "We were identified as a bunch of helicopter pilots. So, it's a helicopter museum. Not true. Why do we have a Huey our front? Because it's the icon of the Vietnam war."
"Everybody in Vietnam flew in that helicopter at some time."
The National Vietnam War Museum sits on 12- acres about an hour and a half south of Wichita Falls, 1- mile east of Mineral Wells, off Highway 180.
So far, you'll find several gardens here.
"The Contemplation Garden has the Camp Holloway Wall, which was built at Camp Holloway in 1965, Vietnam in 1965. It opened in 1966."
"The Meditation Garden's primarily a place for meditation that features two labyrinth trails and a large gazebo.
There's also the Semper Fi Garden, dedicated to the Marine Corp.
"So, left foot, right foot, left foot, and swing over the top."
In the Semper Fi Garden sits an amphibious track vehicle, or Amtrak, that was used exclusively by Marines in Vietnam.
"I don't restrict anybody who wants to do it. If they can make the climb to get in here, and I'm here, I'm more than happy to take them. The reason I do that, I've got an ulterior motive here. This ramp was sealed shut in 1969. That's the exit ramp to attack the beach, or whatever. I want to let that down and open this up, and that takes time, money, and experience."
Jim Messinger enlisted into the Army for flight school in 1966.
Before his tours, he trained in the Mineral Wells area with just about every other helicopter pilot who flew in Vietnam.
Today, Jim's very proud of what he and others at the National Vietnam War Museum are accomplishing for all of those from the Vietnam era and beyond.
"The disagreements are relatively narrow. 58,000 people died in Vietnam. We went there at this time. We came back at this time. This is what we were trying to do. This is what happened. So, those are pretty easy to pin down, and we want people to understand what really did happen. Not what you think happened, but what really did happen. We've got to get that story out, and the good, the bad, the ugly, and both sides."
They're trying to accomplishing that through educational materials, artifacts and displays also inside the visitor's center.
"This is a shell casing from a 122 millimeter artillery round, and I like to show this to people because it has writing right down here. When people talk about, oh the Russians weren't involved in the Vietnam War, well how did this get there?"
"That's a German Mauser from WWI. What's it doing in the Vietnam War? The rifle behind it is a French 9 mm Bolt Action. So, now we have a German and a French. We were not using these guns. These were used by the Viet Cong, and to some extent the NVA."
"And, we bought these by the thousands while we were stationed in Vietnam."
So, from everything there is to see inside, to the Huey that flew in Vietnam where a crew member was killed, to all of these type vehicles, there is so much to see here. But, it's what's still to come that also gets Vietnam veterans like Jim so excited
"There's a great big open area out there to the northwest, kind of in between two big oak trees, and that's where the main museum building, the 50- thousand square foot guy will be built."
With an average of 25- to 30- thousand people already visiting a year, from 36- states and 9- countries last year, Jim says they're very much looking forward to the main museum's completion as an estimated 25- million dollars is raised.
In the meantime, visitors can take in what the first million in donations has produced.
"It's all free. There's no cost. You can come out here. The outdoor exhibits are open 24/7. You can come out here and climb in the vehicles and look around and go to the wall. There's a computer at the wall that lists all the names on the wall and what panels they're on. So, if you're looking for a Smith or a Jones, you can type their name in."
"What do you want to look by?" "Let's go with hometown." "Hometown, all right. Let's go with Wichita Falls. Look, it's already up there. See the little scroll bar here on the side? Look at how many people from Wichita Falls are on that wall."
This is about a half- scale, 300- foot long replica of the permanent Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. that can be found in the Vietnam Garden.
"The names are all on the same place they are in Washington, D.C.. When Washington, D.C. Adds a name, they tell us where they put it, and in the next year, we'll put it in the same spot."
Then, too many could relate first- hand to the feelings and emotions expressed by visitors who connect to this Vietnam Memorial Wall.
The National Vietnam War Museum in Mineral Wells is a place to meditate, contemplate, and to learn.
It's a place where all can come to cope and to heal, While making sure never to forget.
Right now, they're looking at possibly opening the main museum up in phases.
Jim says there's going to be two different galleries dedicated to the military.
One of the early part of the war, and one of the later part.
They're also planning to dedicate an exhibit to the Vietnamese culture, a typical street during the war.
It would have everything from water buffalo, to bicycles and scooters.
What you'd normally see in the 1960's if you walked down the street in a town in Vietnam.
All of this is not going to be cheap or easy, though.
So, if you'd like to contact the museum for information on how you can help, or on how to see the whole thing for yourself, and not only what's outside, here are numbers you can call.
If no one answers that number in the visitor's center, Jim says go ahead and give him a call at 940-452-1470.
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