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Dayton museum marks 75th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force this weekend

plane on ground with fireworks in background
Machiko Arita
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Fireworks explode behind a C-130J Super Hercules at Yokota Air Base, Japan, July 4, 2022. The fireworks show was part of the Independence Day celebration hosted by the 374th Force Support Squadron.

The U.S. Air Force was born on Sept. 18, 1947, when the first Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, was sworn into office following the signing of the National Defense Act. A year-long commemoration wraps up this weekend with a host of events at and around Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Doug Lantry is a curator and historian at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. He says the anniversary is a good time to stop and reflect.

"This particular anniversary lets us look into our past and appreciate all the airmen and civilians that came before us, and it also lets us look into our future to continue the innovation and acceleration and thriving that the Air Force depends on and needs," he says.

The Air Force has strong ties to Ohio and the Miami Valley because the state is the birthplace of aviation, thanks, of course, to the Wright brothers.

"When they invented the airplane and perfected it here in Dayton, there grew up around that activity a lot of invention and innovation infrastructure with the old McCook Field and then Wright Field and then Patterson Field, and eventually the gigantic complex that today is Wright-Patterson Air Force Base," Lantry explains. "That collection of infrastructure has been the site of Air Force innovation for a very long time."

All of that innovation created a host of historical artifacts which grew into a collection so large, Lantry says, it was too big to move. That's how, in 1923, a museum was created that would go on to become the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum.

"For me, personally, the opportunity to summarize 75 years of Air Force history and heritage has been important and meaningful," Lantry says, pointing to a recent visit by a group of leadership students.

"My job was to try and tie this 75 years of heritage into their current everyday experience of trying to learn to be better leaders for the future. The opportunity to look back on 75 years and draw lessons for students from those 75 years was really a satisfying thing to do."

A year of celebration culminates this weekend with a slew of events in the Dayton area. The museum is launching a new temporary special exhibition, and Lantry is preparing for a busy few days of tours, static displays, events and visitors.

The U.S. Air Force Marathon runs on Saturday, starting and finishing at the museum.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.