The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

November 7, 2010

Woodring Wall of Honor plans to construct veterans museum

ENID — Enid’s Wall of Honor group soon will begin an ambitious project to build a multimillion-dollar veterans museum at Enid Woodring Regional Airport.

Elaine Johns, executive director of the Wall of Honor, said the board unanimously approved the plans last week. Johns said the museum is expected to cost about $3 million, some of which also will be used to establish a fund to help operate the museum for five years until it generates its own grants and income.

The building, including reflection pools and other outside landscaping, will cost about $2.5 million. The site still is being chosen from three possible spots at the airport.

The two-story museum will contain an extensive military memorabilia collection, including some borrowed from other museums.

The first floor will contain a concession area and gift shop, along with the main display area. It will include an open area where aircraft can be suspended. There also will be an IMAX theater and stage so conventions and events can be held at the museum. The theater will be multi-purpose, Johns said.

The second floor will feature banquet facilities, offices and storage areas.

The structure’s size is about   30,000 square feet.

“The architect assisting us with the project is one of our Gold Star families, whose son was killed in Iraq, so they have a passion for the design,” Johns said.

She said the only other military museums in the state are the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City.

The Wall of Honor museum will be dedicated to all veterans of all conflicts or wars.

“We’ve already had calls from organizations to loan memorabilia for display, and several grant applications (have been) forwarded to us,” Johns said.

The museum has a large collection of aircraft, and board member David Henneke has an extensive collection of other military memorabilia.

“We just need a building to put those things in,” Johns said.

No date has been set for the groundbreaking, but Johns said she anticipates 18 months construction time from start to opening.

The Legacy Ball, sponsored by the Wall of Honor Saturday, honored five Oklahomans who served their country in various branches of military service. They were nominated by individuals and chosen by a Wall of Honor committee.

The honorees were Jack McNiece, Army; Dave McCoy, Navy; Jim Goodrich, Marine Corps; M.L. Becker, Air Force; and William A. “Bill” Estes, Coast Guard.

McNiece, the Army honoree, was the leader of the Filthy 13. By the time the first invading American troops touched the beaches of Normandy, McNiece’s squad almost was wiped out. He led 18 paratroopers on a mission behind enemy lines to destroy two bridges and control a third to prevent German reinforcements from moving into Normandy, cutting off retreating German troops.

McNiece was a sergeant during each of the missions he took part in during the more than two years he fought in World War II, but was busted to private in between those missions for leaving his base without permission for nights of drinking and fun.

“I was a goof-off soldier, but I was a combat soldier,” he said. “I never missed a minute of combat. The rest of the time I spent in the stockade.”

The 12 paratroopers in his squadron often showed a reluctance to follow military regulations and procedures, and his outfit became known as the Filthy 13.

Decades later, Hollywood would become interested in their story, change some facts and figures and chronicle one of the squadron’s missions in the film “The Dirty Dozen.” Lee Marvin was cast to portray McNiece’s character in the film, in which (unlike reality) the paratroopers were charged with violent crimes.

McNiece was one of only three paratroopers to survive four such missions.

Dave McCoy, the Navy honoree, has been involved in numerous veterans activities since his discharge in 1969, including serving as director of the family support center at Vance Air Force Base. While there, he received a number of awards for establishing programs for the family support center and conducting activities above and beyond expectations.

He also was involved in the presentation of the first POW/MIA flag, which still flies over Cherokee Strip Conference Center. He also helped bring the first Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall to Enid, where it was visited by more than 50,000 people.

McCoy assisted in the development of Veterans Acres, where he counseled and worked with veterans weekly. He also donated a lake cabin for use by disabled veterans.

Becker, the Air Force honoree, was captured  after being shot down east of Bastogne, Belgum, during World War II. Most of his time in captivity was spent marching, although he ended up in a prison camp on the Polish border. He walked hundreds of miles and saw many of his comrades shot in front of him. At one point his group was locked in a train for five days and survived by sucking icicles for water.

There originally were 1,545 prisoners in Becker’s group when they began the death march; Only 528 survived to be liberated April 13, 1945. Becker lost 47 pounds in prison, and his mother did not recognize him when he stepped off the train.

Information on the remaining Legacy veterans was unavailable at press time.

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