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The Warhawk Air Museum: A true blue love story

This is the story of the Warhawk Air Museum — and how it came to be the home and heart for those whose lives have been touched by the wars Idahoans have fought.
Credit: Idaho Press
A North American P-51C, dubbed the "Boise Bee," sits on display surrounded by WWII era equipment and memorabilia at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa.

NAMPA, Idaho — This is a love story, within a love story, within a love story.

First, it’s a love story between a man and his love of World War II-era warplanes.

Second, it’s a love story between that man and a woman who loved him so much, she learned how to fly planes just so they could spend more time together, doing something they both came to enjoy.

Third, it’s a love story of monumental proportions, entwining countless men and women’s sacrifices in the service of their country, giving voice to their stories, harboring their treasures and safekeeping them for their families and loved ones for today and the generations to come.

This is the story of the Warhawk Air Museum — and how it came to be the home and heart for those whose lives have been touched, and informed by the wars our fellow Idahoans have fought, in a report from the Idaho Press.

“People are so thankful to have a place to have their family history preserved,” said Sue Paul, co-founder of the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa. John Paul, her husband, is the other co-founder.

Love story 1 and 2

They were childhood sweethearts. “We were 14 and 17 when we met,” Sue Paul said.

It wasn’t long before John shared a secret about another love he had.

“John loved World War II fighter planes from the time he was in fourth grade when a flight of Corsairs (WWII fighter bombers) flew over his grammar school. It was like … magic for him,” she said.

Credit: Idaho Press
Sue Paul co-founded the Warhawk Air Museum with her husband John Paul. This year is the museum's 30th anniversary.

When he was older, he took flying lessons and began flying the planes he loved. And, at age 28, Sue Paul got her own pilot’s license — “to be with him. … It was his love — and I loved him.”

Their romance blossomed, and they got married and ran a manufacturing business. Thirty-four years ago, they moved from California to the Treasure Valley.

“We brought our manufacturing business — and we had three World War II airplanes,” she said.

Enter: Love story No. 3

The Pauls built a 7,000-square-foot hangar at the Caldwell Industrial Airport. And when they began flying the planes, people noticed. They came running out of their homes, often even setting up folding chairs in backyards or out in the fields by the airport, drawn first by the distinctive sound — a burring buzzsaw cutting through the air like no other — then staying for the flying show.

Credit: Idaho Press
Students, from nearby Ridgevue High School, walk past a Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 primary training aircraft during a visit to the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa. The plane was used by the U.S. Navy to train naval aviators during WWII.

It wasn’t long, Sue Paul said, until the boxes began showing up at the hangar. Boxes of World War II memorabilia and paraphernalia, treasured uniforms and more. People were bringing boxes that had been gathering dust in basements and attics, boxes of heirlooms passed down, treasured objects of their beloved family war heroes.

RELATED: Idaho veterans get a special visit from the ‘Victory Belles’

The Pauls were a bit taken aback at first. After all, their airplane hangar wasn’t a sanctuary for war memorabilia. And yet, they understood the yearning need for people to have a place for their loved ones’ hard fought for memories, that they wouldn’t be in vain, or lost or tossed out with the trash.

Credit: Idaho Press
Numerous display cases are filled with artifacts and memorabilia from veterans and their families at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa.

“One was a box of medals,” said Sue Paul. “That’s when I made the decision to find a place for all of it.

“In 1989, the Warhawk Museum was born.”

Growing … and growing

At first, the 501c3 nonprofit museum was housed at the Caldwell Airport. But soon, it was busting at the seams as more and more donations came in.

“In 2000, we knew we had to expand the museum,” Sue Paul said. “In 2001, we opened the first 20,000 square feet in Nampa. We had three fighter planes and about five cabinets of memorabilia.”

The building had been built on a wing and a prayer — literally.

“The movie ‘Pearl Harbor’ came along, and they wanted both the P-40s for that film,” Sue Paul said. “We donated all of the proceeds to be the seed money to build the first 20,000 square feet of the building. … Within 10 years, we had completely outgrown that building.”

Credit: Idaho Press
Numerous display cases are filled with artifacts and memorabilia from veterans and their families at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa.

And she knew what she wanted to include in the expansion.

“I always promised in my heart we would be able to honor those in the Cold War era, Korea and Vietnam.”

RELATED: Vietnam War-era veterans honored at Warhawk Air Museum pinning ceremony

But how to pay for it? How about another WWII-era blockbuster? Enter the 2008 movie “Valkyrie.”

“Tom Cruise wanted to use our plane — you’ll see our plane in the very beginning of the movie,” Sue Paul said. Cruise, it seems, is a real stickler for authenticity and fought for using the Curtiss P-40, although it sits in as a British Royal Air Force plane in the film. No matter, it did the trick.

The Pauls donated all of the proceeds from that film to help finance the 2011 addition.

Interviews, education and community

Another $100,000 wing donated by Bill Oberst added the quintessential soundproof interviewing room at the Warhawk Air Museum. It provided the catalyst for a partnership with The Library of Congress, and the museum is now a Veteran History Project Interviewing center, providing an additional service that is priceless, said Sue Paul.

“We’ve conducted over 1,300 interviews of veterans of every war of all ages,” she said. “And more important, more than 1,300 families have a copy of their loved ones telling their story.”

In addition, the museum, which has always had education as one of its major tenets, brings kids from all over the state to learn their country’s history, firsthand and hands on.

Credit: Idaho Press
U.S. Navy veteran Richard Kerr speaks to a group of students from Ridgevue High School during an education presentation at the Warhawk Air Museum.

“About 6,000 kids come here for our educational program every year,” said Paul. Veterans from all of the wars, including World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq, volunteer to present forums to children from elementary to high school.

RELATED: Ridgevue High kicks off school year with Warhawk flyover

The Warhawk also hosts a free monthly get-together for veterans, the Kilroy Coffee Klatch, on the second Tuesday of every month.

“It’s the largest gathering of Idaho veterans in the state,” Sue Paul said. “About 240 come every month. It’s so beloved. … It’s a very difficult transition when they retire from the military into civilian life,” she said. “What the Kilroy Coffee Klatch has become is that community.”

Coming attractions

As for the future, Paul has big plans.

“Our next growth will be to honor and preserve the memories of the post-9/11 veterans,” she said. “I call them the bookends. The front side is World War I, and the back side is our 9/11 section.”

For now, though, the museum is full to the rafters of sights to see and things to do. There are about 10 airplanes out on the floor from World War II and the Cold War era, and yes, that includes the warplanes featured flying in Hollywood films. There’s memorabilia, including cars and jeeps from war times. There is even a nod to our country’s space efforts and a bonafide chunk of the Berlin Wall. Historical recordings of speeches, radios, books, records and more.

Credit: Idaho Press
A group of students from Ridgevue High School look over an aircraft on display in the Cold War wing of the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa.

“And we have literally thousands of personal collections (of veterans),” said Sue Paul.

You could spend hours reading through the binders alone.

To enhance the experience, there is also a surround-sound experience featuring music popular in World War II in that area of the museum, and ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s music in the Cold War section.

RELATED: Cold War-era fighter jet finds a permanent home at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa

“You could spend days here,” said Sue Paul.

“Our mission is to teach the world about the price of freedom … and to honor those who have paid its cost. Our educational program is at the heart of what this mission is.

“The airplanes bring people,” she said. “The stories keep them.”

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