Sue and John Paul never intended to build a museum, but build one they did. What started as a personal hobby in a small airport hangar has become a 38,000-square-foot tribute to aviation and military history, and a place where the past is given a face.
"The preservation of so many personal histories, so many sacrifices, so many dedicated people to our country--men, women and children--that's the heart of this place," said Sue Paul.
While the showpieces of the museum are rare military planes, like the two Curtiss P-40s or the P-51 C Mustang, people are at its core. The personal artifacts--from letters to uniforms to keepsakes--donated to the museum offer a window into the lives of ordinary Americans during times of war.
The Pauls moved to the Treasure Valley in 1986 with their son J.C.--who helps run the museum--and two WWII era planes. John started restoring a third in a hangar at the Caldwell Airport, and people began showing up to check out the planes. Soon, boxes filled with WWII uniforms or equipment with notes attached were being left at the hangar.
The Warhawk Air Museum was born in 1989, primarily as a place to preserve aviation history. But since then, it has evolved to include all branches of the military with displays from WWII to the Cold War.
By 2000, the museum had outgrown its hangar, and the couple moved the collection to Nampa, where they were able to add an educational center dedicated to passing on stories to younger generations.
"That's what makes this museum so special," Sue said, sharing how an official at the Smithsonian Institute told her the Warhawk was one of the most unique museums he had ever seen because it was more about the people than the events. "It's so personal," she said. "Everything has a story."
Those stories are shared with the 2,000-3,000 school kids who tour the museum each year to take advantage of programs designed to give history a new meaning for children. The museum also teamed with the Library of Congress to serve as an interview site for the Veterans History Project, which collects the personal stories of veterans and civilians during war. So far, 750 interviews have been recorded at the Nampa museum (: warhawkairmuseum.org: ): and shared with both the families and the federal archives.
For the Pauls, each donation is another chance to preserve history in a very personal way.
"What is so profound for me, and most people--the collections that the veteran or the veteran's family has put in a box and saved with such love and to bring it here and to open it up, it's like a flower opening up. It's the wedding picture, the baby picture, the picture of the vet when he left the military--it's the story," Sue said.
"This place has a life of its own," she added. "It's going where it needs to go and we just hang on."