Carnegie display showcases NAS Lemoore, local role in Vietnam

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Oct. 14—The Carnegie Museum of Kings County's first exhibition since opening its doors is open for another two weeks.

The museum interior is filled from wall to wall with photographs, aviation suits, artifacts, and literature on the aircraft of NAS Lemoore as well the men and women who formed their squadrons. The displays cover the entire history of the base, from the World War II-era Army Air Force base that existed two miles south of its current location, to the Vietnam War, to the Persian Gulf War, through the present-day War on Terror.

According to lead curator Clark Valceschini, the exhibit is the culmination of about a decade's worth of work to collect and gather the history of the Lemoore Base and those who've served there. It started with three plaques and a poster found on top of the walk-in refrigerator of the Officer's Club. Valceschhni, a former aviator at NAS Lemoore, soon gathered up more and more artifacts, which he is now sharing with the public. The Carnegie was bolstered more in the weeks leading up to the exhibition with displays like an ejection seat used in the new "Top Gun" movie and a mock-up of a Gulf War "ready room."

The exhibition is also a celebration of the 60 years that NAS Lemoore has been in operation, having been commissioned in 1961.

"Lemoore is the newest Naval Air Station," Valceschini said. "So, '61, is it new? Well, that's not new, but relatively speaking, it is compared to other air stations that the Navy owns."

But despite it still being the Navy's most recent air base, Valceschini says it's still packed with history, something he hopes to demonstrate, starting with Vietnam.

"We lost a lot of aviators there; a lot of families were very involved and engaged in that war," he said. "And you can only imagine the Gulf War, the Afghanistan engagements and conflicts, so there is a tremendous amount of history here and if you delve into it, you can pull it out — you can find it."

Jack Schwartz, the museum president, was there for much of that history. His father served until 1962 and his family moved to Lemoore when the base was still newly operational. His own childhood was filled with memories ranging from watching the Blue Angels to grocery shopping on base. He also remembered the toll of the Vietnam War on the NAS Lemoore community.

"This exhibit is sort of, not a culmination, but a fulfillment of a desire to have the people know about Lemoore Naval Air Station and its impact," Schwartz said. "From a POW perspective, there were so many fliers shot down and killed. And it hit all of us, all of our families in town."

The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The exhibition's last day is Oct. 24.

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