World War II Exhibit Opens at Iowa Gold Star Military Museum

New exhibit at the Gold Star Military Museum in Johnston. (WHO-HD)

JOHNSTON, Iowa-- Veterans who served in World War II are being honored in a brand new exhibit at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum.

The exhibit is called the World War II Pacific Theater and it tells the stories of Iowans who served during the war and even their lives after.

“It’s been a long dream of the museum to have this exhibit done. Everything here represents Iowans and Iowa history and it gives us an opportunity to let everyone know all of the great contributions of Iowans to the war,” Museum Director Sherrie Colbert said.

More than 262,000 Iowans served in the U.S. armed forces during WW II, including 8,398 Iowans who died during the war from battle wounds, injuries, and illness.

The exhibit is an immersive experience featuring sights, sounds and artifacts from that time.

“We have a very rare collection of items from an Iowan named William Reed, Bill Reed, from Marion and Reed served with the American Volunteer Group, nicknamed the Flying Tigers. He is one of four Iowans that served with that group,” Museum Curator Mike Vogt said.

A full-scale replica of a Curtiss P-40B Warhawk painted in the markings of an aircraft flown by AVG Flight Leader Bill Reed hangs directly overhead in the exhibit.

Reed is one of Iowa’s most decorated WW II pilots, and was killed in action on December 19, 1944 near Hankow, China.

“The Reed family were very generous in donating the collection of materials that effectively illustrate Reed’s service during the war,” Vogt said.

Vogt said about a dozen of Reed’s family members will all attend the grand opening of the exhibit and will be like a family reunion for them.

Museum visitors will also learn about Navy Chaplain Aloysius H. Schmitt from Dubuque, Iowa, the role of Iowans in Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s first air raid on Japan early in the war, the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa who died in the sinking of the USS Juneau on Nov. 13, 1942 in the Solomon Sea and Bill Knapp, originally from Allerton, Iowa, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944 at age 17 and served in the Pacific Theater during WW II. Knapp has been active in the revitalization of Des Moines and the development of central Iowa projects as an entrepreneur and real estate developer.

Bill Harris is another Iowan featured in the exhibit.

“One of the featured items is a Navy uniform worn by Bill Harris. Bill Harris was trained as a photographer he was on the auxiliary ship, Argon, which was anchored at Pearl HArbor on the 7th of December. When the attack happened Bill did what he was trained to do, which is grab a camera and start rolling while the attack is happening,” Vogt said.

The exhibit opens Friday at 3:00 p.m. and features reenactors and activities during the ribbon cutting ceremony. The museum is located at 7105 Northwest 70th Avenue in Johnston.