McChord Air Museum keeps installation’s legacy alive

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kylee Tyus
  • 62d Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Installations across the military often honor the legacy of those that have paved the way in history by naming bases, streets, and buildings after them.

Much like Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, was named after U.S. Army Air Corps Lt. Col. Fredrick I. Eglin, and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, was named after Carl Ben Eielson for the roles they played in shaping modern day aviation, on May 5, 1938, Tacoma Field was renamed McChord Field in honor of U.S. Army Col. William Caldwell McChord and his role in the birth of military aviation.

Nearly 50 years after the death of McChord, the McChord Air Museum was established to honor not only his legacy, but that of those who played a role in McChord Field’s history.

“The McChord Air Museum is here to not only talk about Col. McChord, so that people know who he was and why the base was named after him,” said U.S. Air Force retired Tech. Sgt. Shon Zawada, the McChord Air Museum curator. “It’s also to tell their stories, the people who were here before.”

After graduating from the United States Military Academy, McChord served as a 2nd Lt. in the cavalry in 1907 and received his flying training from former U.S. Army Air Corps military airfield, Rockwell Field, California, In 1918, he was rated a junior military aviator. Following his 30 years of service, McChord passed away during an aircraft accident in 1937.

The museum was established in July of 1984 as one of three air mobility museums in the world. It showcases McChord’s history while focusing on how the Army Air Corps, Army Air Forces and the Air Force played a role in it.

The museum is separated into three different areas: the main gallery, which has exhibits showcasing the relationship between the base and its Canadian counterparts; Heritage Hill Airpark, which holds aircraft previously assigned to McChord as well as aircraft that play a role in the base’s history; and the aircraft restoration facility, which is used to repair and restore any new and existing exhibits.

In order to keep McChord’s legacy alive, the museum heavily relies on its volunteers for restoration and repairs of exhibits. The McChord Air Museum Foundation is another resource used to conserve and better the museum. The foundation provides funding used to keep existing exhibits in good condition and to bring new exhibits in to showcase the base’s historical ability to provide rapid global mobility and prime nuclear airlift forces.

“We add things to the museum to tell the story,” said Zawada. “There’s an American philosopher named George Santayana who said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’”

The museum plays a role in sharing McChord and McChord Field’s history so that it can aid in preserving the past to better the future.  

The museum, fully run by volunteers, encourages all family members, friends, and service members across JBLM to consider donating their time to help keep McChord Field’s history alive.

“McChord’s history is rich with heroes, courageous operations, and trail blazers, and I am always excited when our Airmen discover they are a continuation of that legacy,” said Erin Lasley, the 62d Airlift Wing historian. “Those of us here at JBLM in the Air Force History and Museums Program are honored to preserve their achievements for the next generation.”

For more information regarding the McChord Air Museum and volunteer opportunities call (253)-982-2485 or visit: