For well over 20 years, a B-52G sat in storage at Paine Field in Everett Washington. It has now been restored and is the centrepiece of a Vietnam War Memorial that has been created as part of the Museum of Flight in Tukwila. The Memorial Day weekend was the setting for the opening of the memorial and Rob Edgcumbe was there for GAR to witness the ceremonies.
In 1991 the USAF delivered B-52G, Midnight Express, into the charge of the Museum of Flight. The museum has its main campus in Tukwila, just south of Seattle Washington and alongside Boeing Field. However, the B-52 was flown in to Paine Field in Everett where the museum has a restoration facility. With no immediate plans for the jet, it sat for many years at Paine Field in whatever location meant it was out of the way.
When Air Force crew E-12, which flew Midnight Express during the Linebacker II phase of the Vietnam War found out it was still in existence, they made it the focal point of their reunion. This started in motion the idea of restoring the jet and making it part of a larger memorial under the name of Project Welcome Home. The process of completing the restoration and finding a suitable location for the memorial was not a quick one, but ultimately the chosen site was on a plot of land behind an outdoor, covered storage area that the museum utilises away from the main museum building. This location is where many of the larger exhibits are stored.
Midnight Express was moved across Paine Field to a spot near the Heritage Flight Museum where a full repaint was undertaken. Then the aircraft was disassembled in preparation for the move by road down to Tukwila. This was undertaken during the night of 3 June 2018 with the fuselage, wings, nacelles and pylons coming down individually. Then the reassembly process commenced, as did the landscaping of the proposed memorial park.
The memorial is to all that served in Vietnam so, while the B-52 is the centrepiece, the flags of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard are all on display. Continuing with the aviation theme, a sculpture of a pilot has been created to reflect those that returned, while under his arm there is a folded flag to represent those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The opening ceremony was held on Saturday 25 May 2019 – the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. While the weather was less than ideal, the rain held off and it was no deterrent to those planning to attend with long lines of cars waiting to get in to the parking lot. Veterans from not only Vietnam but also Korea and WWII were present, along with many from more recent conflicts. Flypasts were provided by a collection of warbirds prior to the opening and from a UH-1H once the ceremonies had concluded.
A number of speakers provided their perspectives. The master of ceremonies was a local TV anchor, Matt Orch. His father had been involved in the restoration process. Other speakers included the mayor of Tukwila, Allan Ekberg, the president of the Museum of Flight, Matt Hayes and Vietnam B-52 pilot and Chairman of Project Welcome Home, Jim Farmer. However, the most well received speaker was the provider of the keynote address, General Jim Mattis, the 26th Secretary of Defense. His speech gained much applause and he stayed to talk with veterans after the event.
With the unveiling of the stones identifying those that had contributed to the program and the sculpture of the pilot, events drew to a close. Everyone continued to stay around the memorial to explore it further, to talk about old times with comrades, to receive commemorative pins if they were veterans of Vietnam and to attend follow up discussions in the museum itself.
Restoring a B-52 and installing it in a memorial is no small feat and it is a credit to all involved that they have achieved this milestone.
The memorial is accessible off Marginal Way in Tukwila so, if you are in the area, try to include it in your travels.