Alaska's military veterans sought out the new Alaska Veterans Museum downtown on Sunday in wheelchairs and walkers and by foot.
The private, nonprofit museum, 10 years in the making, celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting and live performances, sheet cake and salmon spread, and educational talks about military events involving Alaska or Alaskans. Hundreds of people came out. One former Marine, Anthony Jurasek Sr., was wearing his Purple Heart hat.
"This is fantastic. It really is. It just blows me away," said another veteran, Bill Bacon. He served in the Navy in World War II, then after college on the GI Bill was an Army officer in the Korean War. "They have all the branches of the service here."
Alaska has the highest percentage of veterans of any state but was the only state without a veterans museum, said Suellyn Wright Novak, a retired Air Force colonel who is president of the museum.
"That's why this is special," she said.
The museum is full of donated and loaner items: old military uniforms, photos of soldiers and old letters, and ship models including a 1/72 scale hand-crafted replica of the USS Essex complete with fighter planes and miniature figures.
The coolest item there? A Baby Nambu, the pistol that Japanese officers carried, Novak said. It wasn't yet on display, but will be soon.
One major exhibit is still being worked on. The museum is making video recordings of veterans' oral histories that it will include in an interactive display. Touch a veteran's picture and you'll hear a little clip of the person's story. So far, 120 have been recorded and another 120 veterans are waiting to tell theirs, Novak said.
The museum was the idea of Forest and Cathy Brooks, who had been involved in a similar museum in Washington state. Forest Brooks is a civilian with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The project lumbered along until Novak, with time, energy and organization skills, took it on, Brooks said.
It's being funded with member donations, fundraisers and small grants. So far the museum has about 140 members, a mix of veterans and civilians.
The museum is in the Market Place at 333 West Fourth Avenue. Its website is www.alaskaveterans.com.
Through the end of the month, it will operate under winter hours, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Starting May 1, for the summer season, the goal is to have it open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Novak said she's looking for more volunteers to staff it and help in other areas. Entry costs $5 for ages 12 and up and $3 for children age 2 to 11.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.