By Ken Carter
When visitors and Academy members alike enter Arnold Hall they now get a closer look at the ‘Father of the United States Air Force.’
An exhibit honoring Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold has been in the works for three years and has come to fruition.
According to Museum Specialist Paul Martin, who serves as curator of collections, the exhibit is designed to inform visitors about the life and career of the General of the Air Force.
“The exhibit has been in planning for three years and the complete overhaul was necessitated by a severely leaking ceiling in 1996 which required the one of-a-kind historical objects to be evacuated for their preservation,” Mr. Martin said.
The essentially complete exhibit now is intended to be permanent, although certain sensitive objects such as General Arnold’s uniform will be changed out over time for purposes of preservation.
“Most of the objects (on exhibit) were given to the Academy from General Arnold’s estate in 1963 and 2000,” Mr. Martin said. “The general’s widow, Eleanor Poole Arnold, made the initial donation and this was followed by a donation of objects by his grandson, Robert, in 2000.”
Mr. Martin suggests the formal evening dress uniform may be considered the most historically significant. “It was originally made for him as a lieutenant. Although worn only on very formal occasions, it was a part of his military career from its inception to at least 1941 as indicated by the lieutenant general rank on the cuffs.”
The impact General Arnold had on the Air Force as we know it today is difficult to quantify.
“This is a tough one – he did so much!,” Mr. Martin said. “I believe that his influence is still very much a part of the Air Force mission although many current members of the Air Force do not know that much of the doctrine they practice today is based on his keen foresight – thus the purpose of this exhibit and others like it.”
General Arnold basically created the modern Air Force via his unique vision and perspective gained through the experience of WWII. He may have summed it up best when he wrote in Global Mission in 1949: “As Chief of the Army Air Forces, I had yet another job. That was to project myself into the future; to get the best brains available … and determine what steps the United States should take to have the best Air Force in the world twenty years hence.”
The curator of three years, and a B-52 aviator from 1971-1976 himself, is also currently working to revise and update the Astronaut Wall in Arnold Hall and reinstall the portraits in the Exemplar Gallery of Fairchild Hall.
The added value of historical displays around the Academy is that they tend to provoke thought about the profession of arms … and for Mr. Martin as much as anyone.
“I feel very strongly in the old adage that ‘what is past is prologue,'” he said. “There is virtually nothing now occurring in either the Air Force or in the other services or in life itself that hasn’t been tackled before. If we preserve our history and properly document it, we can learn a lot from it and hopefully not repeat the mistakes of the past.”