Former President George H.W. Bush used a large pair of gold scissors Monday to cut a red ribbon and dedicate an expansive new gallery that carries his name at the National Museum of the Pacific War.
Bush and his wife, Barbara, were among some 4,000 people gathered on a street in Fredericksburg to mark the day 68 years ago that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II.
"It is right and important that we honor the genuine valor of men and women who throughout our history have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, for the cause of freedom, and perhaps most of all for each other," Bush said. "Those who survive the war are always haunted by the memory of those they lost, their friends who never came home.
"We're also right to pause and thank the living for the honor and commitment they've shown, and continue to show, to preserving and protecting this, the greatest and freest nation on the face of the earth."
Bush, the youngest American naval aviator in the war, delivered his remarks outside an entrance to the new gallery marked by the conning tower of an American submarine not unlike the one that rescued him after he was shot down in the Pacific.
The museum fulfilled the obligation of passing along to future generations "the abject horror of war," Bush said, which he described as what happens "when mankind falls short of his highest aspirations."
"It's in the act of telling the full story of war, the heroism, the moral justice of a cause, as well as the great suffering, that makes this remarkable museum such a special place and a vital contribution to our country," the former president said.
The $15.5 million expansion project has been planned for about a decade at the museum, which is managed by the Nimitz Foundation. Fredericksburg, about 60 miles northwest of San Antonio, is hometown of Adm. Chester Nimitz, who commanded all American naval forces in the Pacific during World War II.
The project adds 32,500 square feet of exhibit space and takes visitors on a chronological journey using multimedia presentations and authentic artifacts.
Among its attractions is one of only two existing Japanese mini-submarines used in the Pearl Harbor attack. Other items include fighter planes, a dive bomber, an American B-25 bomber and tanks.
Visitors can see exhibits about the Pearl Harbor attack and historic battles during the war: Guadalcanal, Midway, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa. The atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki also have displays. Among the artifacts is the casing of a "Fat Boy" atomic bomb that would have been used if the Japanese had not surrendered after the first two were dropped in August 1945.
Some of the presentations use sounds and videos and animated special effects that put visitors in the middle of battles, including one from the bridge of a Navy light cruiser in the middle of the Leyte Gulf in 1944.
Gov. Rick Perry called the museum "a remarkable repository of American history" and saluted Bush and other World War II veterans who "left family, farms, factories, colleges to pour out their youth in the fiery chaos of battle."
"And they returned to build a free nation that still inspires this world," Perry said. "It is my hope and prayer every Texan, make that every American, will have the opportunity to visit this museum, revel in the tales of bravery, honor and sacrifice as we honor the memory of the unprecedented undertaking known as the war in the Pacific."
The museum, which attracts 80,000 to 100,000 visitors a year, has grown since the mid-1960s when it began on the site of a century-old hotel once owned by Nimitz's family. The admiral, who died in 1966, agreed to allow the use of the property as a museum as long as it focused on the entire Pacific War effort, not only his role.
Besides Bush, the crowd Monday included other World War II veterans, some of them proudly wearing uniforms or clothing representing their service. There are an estimated 8 million Pacific War veterans, the youngest of them now in their 80s. Museum officials estimate that less than 1 million veterans who saw combat in the Pacific are alive.
Bob Jensen, 85, who was wearing a blue and white cap and jacket that identified him as a Pearl Harbor survivor, drove from Sun City, Ariz., with his wife to see Bush. He was a 17-year-old sailor from Grinnell, Iowa, aboard the battleship Maryland in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
"This is very exciting," he said of the pageantry. But Jensen said he wouldn't be among those going inside the museum to see exhibits.
"I don't want to look at any war pictures," he said.
Source: AP Features