Jim Farmer flew a B-52 in Vietnam.
Now, more than 45 years later, the former Air Force captain has a new mission: honoring Vietnam veterans' service with a memorial that features one of the bombers.
“For me, it is an obligation to make this happen for veterans who were not properly received when they came home,” said Farmer, a MOAA member.
Project Welcome Home is a $3 million effort that is slated to open outside Seattle's Museum of Flight on Memorial Day weekend in 2019.
Workers prepare to lower the B-52's wing for installation as part of the restoration process. (Robert Bogash; see more images here)
'We've Got to Do Something'
The memorial - and its B-52 centerpiece - came together because of the efforts of dedicated veterans.
Although the Museum of Flight received the B-52 in 1991, the plane sat dormant for more than two decades at Paine Field, north of Seattle, said Farmer, who is also a trustee at the museum.
Then, in 2012, Farmer and a group of Vietnam veterans gathered to recognize the 40th anniversary of Operation Linebacker II, an aerial bombing campaign near the end of the Vietnam war.
They said to each other, as Farmer recalled, “This airplane can't just sit here and rot; we've got to do something about it.”
The group immediately began efforts to raise money and ramped up fundraising in earnest in spring 2017.
“This whole project was initiated and driven by veterans,” Farmer (pictured left) said.
Project Welcome Home's committee, largely made up of veterans, leveraged connections to solicit funding, develop plans, and spread the word about the memorial.
From Vision to Action
The concerted efforts of everyone involved led to the restoration of the B-52G Stratofortress, which included painting the aircraft in same style it had in Vietnam. The refurbished aircraft was transported in June from Paine Field to the Museum of Flight site.
In addition to the B-52, Project Welcome Home will feature an 8-foot statue of a servicemember returning home.
“In some small way, I really enjoy trying to honor what they did,” said Jim Nance, a Vietnam veteran and sculptor who designed and created the statue.
The statue, which weighs 800 pounds, includes a folded flag to recognize those who did not come home.
Nance, an Air Force pilot who flew C-141s in Vietnam, started working on the statue in June 2017. It is now complete and awaiting shipment to Seattle from his studio in Colorado.
(Courtesy of Jim Nance)
“It's a wonderful project,” he said. “I was really excited to do it.”
Visitors will be able to walk around the statue and the B-52 when the park opens to the public over Memorial Day weekend. Admission is free.
To complement Project Welcome Home, the Museum of Flight plans an exhibit on the Vietnam air war. Farmer said he hopes the educational efforts will help people understand the war.
“I want young people to know that this was a significant event for an awful lot of people, whether they served or didn't serve,” said Farmer.
As for visiting Vietnam veterans, Project Welcome Home provides a “long overdue” place for healing, honor and reflection, he said.
“It's an acknowledgement of their sacrifice.”
Project Welcome Home will debut over Memorial Day weekend 2019. Learn more at www.museumofflight.org/welcomehome.