Local

New exhibit focuses on Pasco’s role in World War II

Altha Simmelink Perry, center, looks at a photo of herself Wednesday as Margie Murray of Kennewick looks at another display in the Naval Air Station Pasco exhibit that opened at the Reach museum in Richland. Perry was a member of the Navy WAVES and worked as a journalist in public relations at the Pasco Station Control Tower. See a video from the grand opening at www.tricityherald.com/video.
Altha Simmelink Perry, center, looks at a photo of herself Wednesday as Margie Murray of Kennewick looks at another display in the Naval Air Station Pasco exhibit that opened at the Reach museum in Richland. Perry was a member of the Navy WAVES and worked as a journalist in public relations at the Pasco Station Control Tower. See a video from the grand opening at www.tricityherald.com/video. Tri-City Herald

A new exhibit at Richland’s Reach museum about the historic Pasco Naval Air Station might one day be part of a larger, permanent display for a Pasco flight museum.

“I’m really happy to see this (exhibit) done while I’m still alive,” said Altha Simmelink Perry, who was a Navy WAVE, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Service, at the base during World War II. “They need to know what they did.”

The World War II-era base was home to 2,000 people at any given time and 5,000 total during the war, Perry said. She worked in public relations at the facility, which operated 24 hours a day.

“Guys were flying like they were landing on aircraft carriers,” she said. “The women were out there fixing the planes. It was a very active place.”

A picture of Perry taken in 1944, when she was 21, is among those in the “Pasco Naval Air Station 1942-1945” exhibit.

About 60 people attended a ribbon-cutting Wednesday. It will remain in the museum’s rotating gallery through Feb. 7. The exhibit also features model airplanes, profiles of the people who served, World War II badges and a training film.

The Reach museum has featured an exhibit on Hanford’s role in World War II since it opened in 2014, but the Pasco Naval Air Station exhibit gives it a chance to showcase the equally important role that Franklin County played, said museum curator Stephanie Button.

“Our goal is to introduce the people in the Tri-Cities to all the ways the Tri-Cities contributed during World War II,” she said.

Malin Bergstrom hopes it is just a preview for a permanent museum at the Tri-Cities Airport. The president of Bergstrom Aircraft is raising money to refurbish the air station’s aging control tower to make it a flight museum. The Reach exhibit is using a portion of her collection.

“We’ve had people express interest in donating aircraft; we’re just not quite there with space,” she said after the event attended by more than 60 people. “We’ve got to have a good location ready to go.”

Bergstrom said she would like to have the main floor of the five-level tower open as a museum by Aug. 1. The remainder of the building would open later, with visitors eventually able to go to the top of the tower, where they could see restored control panels and enjoy a great view of the airport.

“I go to the Museum of Flight in Seattle on a regular basis,” she said. “I’m amazed with the displays of aircraft that they have. We’d hope to do a fraction of what they have, but on a local basis.”

Bergstrom said about $19,000 has been donated to the cause so far, with a goal of $70,000 by August.

The museum will not only include military displays. Bergstrom wants to showcase an early airmail route that came through Pasco.

The nonprofit Save the Old Tower board is working with the Port of Pasco on getting better access to the tower. Visitors now must come to Bergstrom’s building on North Stearman Avenue, where they are escorted to the tower.

The process to restore the tower has been a long one. Bergstrom got permission from the port to move forward with preserving it in 2011.

The Naval Air Station, commissioned in 1942, was one of the three largest training bases during its time, along with Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas. After the war, it served as Pasco’s airport until the current terminal opened in 1966.

A fundraiser for the control tower is planned Nov. 14 at the airport. People can get 30-minute rides in a Douglas DC-3 airliner for $350.

“It’ll be a great way to see a historic airplane,” Bergstrom said.

Call Bergstrom Aircraft at 509-547-6271 for more information.

Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543, @GeoffFolsom

Historic plane tours

A fundraiser for the Pasco control tower is planned Nov. 14 at the airport.

People can take a 30-minute ride in a DC-3 for $350.

Call Bergstrom Aircraft at 509-547-6271 for more information.

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