SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Thanks to a group of retired Air Force C-141 “crew dogs,” the legacy of Norton Air Force Base, lives on.
Members of the 63rd and 445th Airlift Wing’s Veterans Group were instrumental in the recent opening of the Norton Air Force Base Museum, located in the former NCO Club at the San Bernardino International Airport.
Since closure in 1994, Norton has been transformed into a giant business complex where retail companies have replaced military warehouses and facilities. Thousands now work at the former 2,200-acre base, arriving daily for jobs in aviation, manufacturing, distribution and logistics.
Therefore, it seemed like a good idea to the Old Crew Dogs, who logged thousands of hours in Norton’s C-141 Starlifters, to have a place to share Norton’s military history with the public.
Working with the Inland Valley Development Authority, who acquired the land from the Air Force, the retired sergeants gathered artifacts, recruited volunteers and helped physically transform Norton’s NCO Club into the museum. The 1,000-square-foot building sat empty for years before it finally began taking shape a year ago with $50,000 in seed money and space donated by the Inland Valley Development Agency.
“This building was part of the overall property transfer of land from the Air Force to the IVDA following the closure,” said Catherine Pritchett, senior assistant to the IVDA’s executive director. “It started out as just an empty space and we’ve transformed it into what we feel is a great place to keep the history of Norton Air Force Base alive. We’re very excited about it.”
Along with the opening of the museum, the group is also completing a memorial wall at the entryway. A C-141 replica of the “Hanoi Taxi” tops the memorial of engraved bricks. The “Hanoi Taxi” was the first plane to bring prisoners of war home from Vietnam.
The museum contains many items donated by retired Airmen and civilians who worked at Norton while it was active. Over the past several years, the Old Crew Dogs have been collecting historical items and reaching out to veterans throughout the region to find pieces needed to tell the Norton story.
On display, are historical items from the C-141s based at Norton in the late 1960s. Famous passengers, like comedian Bob Hope, left memorabilia from his USO tours and photos of Senator John McCain, who took the Hanoi Taxi home in 1973 after his release from Vietnam as a POW, were also present. Also on display, is a wooden chair from the control tower and old uniforms, medals and ribbons from military personnel stationed there. These items, plus many more, offers visitors an educational look into the former base’s vast history.
Members of the museum board are still looking for donations to expand the offerings at the museum.
“Each section of the museum will act as a chapter in telling the story of the former Norton Air Force Base,” said Robert Edwards, president of the Norton AFB Museum’s board of directors.
“We have many items that we are very excited to display, but there’s always room for more and we’d love for people to bring their stuff in and let us tell their story.”
For those interested in visiting the museum, it is located at 1601 E. Third St. San Bernardino, Calif. Call (909) 382-7307 or visit www.nafbmuseum.org for hours and directions. Admission is free.