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posted: 6/14/2012 8:04 AM

Sugar Grove museum open house aims to educate

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  • Historic planes will be on display Saturday at the Air Classics Museum of Aviation in Sugar Grove.

      Historic planes will be on display Saturday at the Air Classics Museum of Aviation in Sugar Grove.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer, June 201

  • Air Classics Museum visitors look inside the cockpit of a fighter jet at last year's open house in Sugar Grove.

    Air Classics Museum visitors look inside the cockpit of a fighter jet at last year's open house in Sugar Grove.
    Daily Herald File Photo

By Hannah Meisel

History is taught in books, but when you see it in person, it takes on a new meaning.

For the sixth year, the Air Classics Museum in Sugar Grove will open its doors for free to the public for its open house.

Hank Winkler, museum curator, said this event is aimed toward getting as many people in the community acquainted with the museum and its goals.

"Our goal is knowledge," Winkler said. "We find that a majority of the people come in here and have no concept of what the second World War was, even problems with Vietnam. They have no idea what veterans went through, so they come back with a good chunk of history."

Museum patrons will be up close and personal not just with the collection of eight aircraft and four full-size replicas, but also with military veterans as they present their experiences as part of the museum's lecture series. The lectures will also include military and aviation historians to give context to the artifacts.

Winkler, a Vietnam veteran himself, said learning about the history of war is important.

"If you ignore history, you will probably do it again," Winkler said.

Besides educating museum visitors about military history, Winkler said he loves to share his passion for airplanes and aviation at Air Classics.

"The only good thing you can say about war is the technological leaps that it makes," he said.

And Air Classics does chronicle what was the cutting edge of technology for each era, beginning with World War II. The museum's permanent collection includes a Bell UH-IH, or Huey, helicopter from the Vietnam War and an F-86 Sabre plane from the Korean War, both of which museum visitors can go inside and sit in the pilot seat.

Many of the museum's unpaid volunteers, like Winkler, are veterans. Paul Linden, a World War II vet, said he volunteers all year and often speaks at schools in order to educate young people about his experiences and the American experience of World War II. At age 89, Linden's memories of his three-year service with the military are fresh as ever.

"World War II was such a huge event in our lives," Linden said. "I'm sure anybody that was alive will never forget many of the things that took place, all the way from Germany's extinction of millions of Jews, bombing cities of Germany, Japan, Italy I don't think anybody that was alive at that time period will ever forget."

In the course of his tour, Linden flew 39 missions over Japan, including 11 night bombing missions. Linden said the military had advertised that each crew would only go on 25 missions, but even through 14 extra missions, he and his crew survived and made it back to the U.S. Linden also said his crew had experienced multiple brushes with Japanese kamikaze planes in some of their 13- to 14-hour missions.

Linden echoed Winkler in his desire to educate museum visitors of both the struggles and triumphs of war veterans, especially those of World War II.

"We do have much here at the museum that pertains to World War II," he said. "And I always (emphasize) that that's the war I fought in. Veterans from that war are dying at a rate of 2,000 per day and it won't be long until there won't be many left."

Air Classics' Open House will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, offering free admission to all of its visitors. The museum is at the edge of the Aurora Municipal Airport in Sugar Grove. For details, visit

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