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OTTUMWA, IOWA — A nonprofit group in Ottumwa is raising money to turn a 1942 building into a museum to remember thousands of pilots who learned how to fly at the Naval Air Station there during World War II.
The group hopes the two-story, 23,000-square-foot former the air station administration building can open as a museum in five years, the Ottumwa Courier reported. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places but needs significant repair.
Stephen Black and other board members of the Friends of Naval Air Station Ottumwa have devoted countless hours to rehabilitating the former administration building. The roof was recently re-shingled, and the next project will be to remove and rebuild the crumbling concrete steps leading to the entryway’s doors and windows, which also need to be replaced.
“And we continue to clean, which is our big project,” Black said. “It doesn’t have a lot of visibility, and isn’t going to for a while.”
The Naval Air Station operated from 1942 to 1945 north of Ottumwa on the site that is now the city airport and an industrial park.
More than 4,600 pilots completed training at the base, including Richard Nixon and Scott Carpenter, who went on to become the second U.S. astronaut to orbit the earth in 1962.
Black, who is collecting stories of those who served or worked at the Ottumwa base, recently visited the 88-year-old Carpenter in Tucson, Ariz.
“I told him that any of the guys who came through here were only students for a few months, but he … interrupted me and said that this (NAS Ottumwa) was important to him,” Black said. “His journey into space started here.”