The 390th Memorial Museum, dedicated to the sacrifices of a World War II bomb group, is in the midst of putting finishing touches on a $2.4 million renovation that added 12,000 square feet of exhibit, office and storage space.
The museum, on the grounds of the Pima Air and Space Museum at 6000 E. Valencia Road, is set to reopen this weekend.
The expansion modernized the hangar that houses the museum, which now includes an entryway, a mezzanine, a two-story mock control tower, a research library, a theater and offices.
Some of the museum’s exhibits, including an area that focuses on prisoners of war, one that honors each of the bomb group’s four squadrons, and a diorama of the bomb group’s daylight raid on Berlin, were upgraded to include new signage and display cases.
Other exhibits, including one about the group’s “chowhound” missions, which involved dropping 19,000 tons of food from the bomb bays of B-17s to starving people in the Netherlands, have been untouched.
The renovation’s goal was to maintain the integrity of the efforts of the veterans who started the museum and created the exhibits, but also modernize the space, said Leslie Freed, the museum’s development director.
“It’s a blend of the old and new,” she said.
Separate rooms were built to house memorabilia and exhibits from the 95th and the 100th bomb groups, which along with the 390th made up the 13th Combat Wing.
From the mezzanine, visitors can get a bird’s-eye view view of the museum’s crown jewel, a B-17 bomber named “I’ll be Around.”
Several black-and-white photos of the group’s crews line one of the upper floor’s walls, and a mock Quonset hut on the lower level shows how the airmen lived.
An escape-and-evasion kit, a ration pack, hand-painted A2 bomber jackets and maps printed on linen are among the items featured in newly built display cases.
Videos that accompany the exhibits will now be shown on flat-screen TVs mounted to the wall instead of older, bulkier TVs.
The museum’s executive director, Emile “Terry” Therrien, says the renovation of the facility, built in 1985, will help visitors better read and understand the exhibits.
“The renovation really puts us into the 21st century. It upgrades the entire facility,” he said.
Many other artifacts remain in storage, but the additional space in the museum will allow exhibits to be rotated.
“The space allows us to tell the story in more detail,” Freed said. “Aside from the B-17, which is considered the iconic World War II plane, what we really want to focus on is the men who flew those planes — what was their life like? What happened when they were captured? ... The stories are what make the museum come alive.”
Retired Col. Richard Bushong, 90, one of the museum’s docents, was a pilot with the 390th and is eager to get back to work sharing with visitors his memories of his 28 missions with the bomb group.
Bushong hopes visitors walk away more informed about the sacrifices of the Eighth Air Force, of which the 390th was a part, during World War II.
“We discuss things that happened in the Eighth Air Force and we talk very exclusively about the 390th in many cases, but we’re giving history for the young people that don’t know that history, and I think we’ll be able to portray that with the new displays that we’re going to have,” he said.
September marks the 70th anniversary of the formation of the 390th Bombardment Group.
The building will be rededicated and host a gala this weekend. About 30 veterans from the 390th group are expected to attend from around the country.
The museum will open to the public for the first time since April on Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to people coming in and just being astounded at our museum. I think they will be,” Bushong said. “It’s going to take us a while to get all the displays that we want in that space.”