It wasn't but just weeks ago when ground was broken on phase one of the National Vietnam War Museum's - (NVWM) permanent home. The nearly 20,000 square-foot facility will be two stories and include three of the 11 planned galleries.
Visitors strolling about the grounds can see where string marks the outline where the building will be constructed. But it's what encircles the perimeter of the property that screams for attention. Over the summer the museum made a few acquisitions: Two Vietnam War Era minesweepers; an Army Helicopter; Captain's Gig; and an Admiral's Barge.
Dr. Jim Messinger, the treasurer of the NVWM, said don't be fooled thinking the facility is dedicated to just helicopters.
"Granted the folks who started the museum were all helicopter pilots in Vietnam, and the location is just down the road from Fort Wolters. But we never wanted it to be a helicopter museum," Messinger said. "We intended to follow our mission statement which is to promote an understanding of the Vietnam War Era while honoring those that served."
Though a former helicopter pilot himself, Messinger said the role of the air cavalry was significant, but it wasn't the whole story.
"It's important the entire Vietnam War timeline be covered," he said.
A fact he and others have taken seriously as they begin researching history and restoring of the artifacts they have received.
Helping with the efforts is Ron Chandler, with American Legion Post #163, that said it'd been both fun and educational researching the Captain's Gig which belonged to the Destroyer USS Semmes, (DDG 18).
"This retired boat attached to the Semmes needs extensive repair and rigging to make it representative of its valuable service," Chandler said. "It was attached to the 2nd Fleet which covered the Mediterranean and Atlantic areas. It was stationed at Naples, Italy for most of it's service and it’s not clear of its involvement in Vietnam. But preserving our history is very important to the American Legion and me to help follow through on the promise to all of our Veterans, ‘You will not be forgotten.'"
Chandler, Navy Senior Chief (Ret.), along with Mark Nill, Navy Master Chief petty officer (LSCM) who retires this year at NAS JRB Ft. Worth, will be helping with research on the USS Semmes and the Captain’s Gig. Ray Staples, former Weapons Service Officer, will also be on hand to help.
The Semmes, named after Rear Admiral Brigadier General Raphael Semmes (1809–1877), was a Charles F. Adams-class guided missile destroyer of the United States Navy.
The ship launched in 1962 and her motto was "dare to excel." She was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 14 April 1991, sold to Greece in 1991 and renamed Kimon. She was decommissioned in June 2004, placed in reserve at Souda Bay, Crete until scrapped in the fall of 2006.
The two minesweepers are small naval warships designed to engage primarily in mine sweeping. The vessels maintained a clear waterway for safe shipping by disabling explosive mines. The modern minesweeper is designed to reduce the chances of it detonating mines itself. It's built to be soundproofed to reduce its acoustic signature and often constructed using wood, fiberglass or non-ferrous metal or is degaussed to reduce its magnetic signature.
"When we first opened the museum we had a few trucks, but we made a statement with the arrival of our AMTRAC (Amphibious Track Vehicle; officially "LVTP" Landing Vehicle Tracked Personnel) used strictly by Marines," Messinger said. "Many of our artifacts stir the emotions of Vietnam Veterans and family members. A truck might do it, the helicopter might; and of course the replica wall. Everything we have out here has the potential to help somebody."
Lance Winter: 817-390-7274
If folks would like to donate time, money or even parts restoring the Captain’s Gig, contact Ron Chandler at 817-223-8926. Or email questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you wish to send money, make checks payable to The National Vietnam War Museum, P.O. Box 1779, Weatherford, TX 76086. Established donor levels as follows:
▪ “Captain” for a donation of $5,000.
▪ Be the OOD (Officer Of the Deck) $2,500.
▪ Or Master Chief Petty Officer for $1,000.
Donors will be recognized near the restored boat. Of course any amount will be accepted, just be sure to send a note with your donation that specifies funds are for the Captain’s Gig.