'You could spend the whole day here and not waste a minute'
MCMINNVILLE, Ore. Several military veterans living in Oregon who served their country during war time now serve as tour guides at one of the largest flight museums on the west coast.
And guides at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum expect a big crowd on Memorial Day weekend.
"This is like being a kid in a candy store," retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Tim Preach said.
That's how docents describe working at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville. The veteran tour guides represent all of the armed forces and it's their job to get their facts straight.
"They made a total of 12,732 aircraft. Without this airplane, I don't think we could've won the war," Melba Smith said while describing the B-17 Flying Fortress on display at the museum. Smith, who grew up near Corvallis, retired as a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.
Both civilian and military aircraft are on display at this massive complex. But besides the props and jets, these guides tell stories about the men in the cockpit and women on the ground.
"A lot of veterans come and they'll say, 'I was in this plane. I flew this plane,'" docent Stan de Stwolinski said.
"There were two million Rosie the Riveters. I was on a tour one day and I forgot to mention that. Guess who was in the audience? A Rosie," Preach said.
The star attraction remains the so-called "Spruce Goose," the Howard Hughes creation that only flew once before being grounded and eventually finding its way to McMinnville.
"It should be called the birch goose, not the spruce goose," de Stwolinski was quick to point out.
"I've had customers come in and say, 'Where's the goose?' And they're standing underneath the wing," docent Paul Gelinas said. Gelinas is originally from Massachusetts and served in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Hercules takes up most of the space in the hangar and is the main attraction when people come here. But the collection at the Evergreen Aviation Museum is still growing. They recently added a DC-9 from the president's Air Force One fleet. And you may recognize the C-47A. It was one of the actual planes to fly into Normandy and drop paratroopers during D-Day.
"We actually have a map of the drop zone. That one's a piece of history too," Preach said.
"Everybody coming in, boy, they want to see the Blackbird. Because that was the secret spy plane of the 60s. We heard about them, but few people ever got to see them," docent Gary Sohn said.
But here, everything is declassified and ready to see and touch, if you get there before the clock runs out.
"The biggest problem people have is they get here at two in the afternoon and we close at 5:00 p.m." Gelinas said. "You could spend the whole day here and not waste a minute."
And that's just a small offering of what's to see at this living museum. And you can see it all in a day's drive.
The museum offers free admission to active duty members of the military along with up to three guests. The museum also has an IMAX theater and a waterpark.