Group plans WWII museum
If enough money can be raised, a war museum in Park City will feature a battlefield, library and theater.
BY AMANDA O'TOOLE
The Wichita Eagle
Wichitan Bill Compton had just graduated from high school when he enlisted in the military more than six decades ago.
It was 1942, and Compton wanted to fly planes. Now 84, he still remembers some of the bombing missions he was assigned while in the Philippines during World War II. He mostly remembers the flights where he saw fellow pilots die, he said.
With puffy eyes, Compton stared at the ground as he retold some of his wartime experiences Sunday at the Alford Branch Library, where Allen Cooley and volunteers with the World War II History Center Foundation talked about a $20 million war museum they'd like to build north of Wichita.
Cooley, president and founder of the nonprofit organization, said he'd like to build the museum across the street from Wild West World in Park City. But to secure the land for the museum, which would feature a 15-acre battlefield, research library and theater, the group must raise $260,000 by Aug. 1.
The money will pay for a third of the 55,000-square-foot plot and give the organization a year to raise an additional $400,000 for the rest of the land.
The overall budget for the museum is $20 million, which includes money for the land and $10 million for an endowment that will be set up to pay the museum's bills.
Fundraising, Cooley said, is a major challenge. .
The group moved to a building in downtown El Dorado in February and earned its nonprofit status nearly two years ago.
Even so, the group hasn't yet raised $10,000.
Next week, he said, the organization will solicit donations at VFW and AMVETS conferences in Wichita and Topeka.
"We have high hopes," he said.
There are only four similar museums in the country, the closest in New Orleans, Cooley said.
But none of the museums have a full-scale battlefield and research library on site.
Plans for the battlefield include a replica of a Russian or French village, foxholes, barbed wire and war-era obstacles for reenactments. On days when there weren't scheduled battles, Cooley said, people could climb into the foxholes and walk around the area to get a feel for what combat was like.
"They can go out and understand this is what my father or grandfather faced," he said. "To get people, especially young people, interested in history, you have to immerse them."
He hopes doing so would better connect the museum's visitors and people like Compton, who actually fought in the war.
Compton said he remains neutral to the idea of the museum. He's not sure it can be funded or whether people would visit.
Cooley said his organization will continue to plan for the museum, even if it can't raise the money in time. The museum is too important to give up on, he said.
"People refer to this as the finest generation," he said. "If we forget what society was capable of doing, we'll never be able to pull together to win a conflict of this nature again."
Reach Amanda O'Toole at 316-268-6357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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