Small Piece Of Paper May Be Most Meaningful Exhibit At Wendover WWII Museum
WENDOVER, Utah – People go to museums to learn about the past.
In Wendover, Utah, James Petersen wants you to feel the past.
“This is a picture of one of the atomic bomb planes,” he said while walking through one of the buildings at the Historic Wendover Airfield. “It’s really a step back in time.”
The airfield is where the crew of the Enola Gay was based.
It’s the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb in Japan during World War II.
“The country came together as one and we were going to win the war. There was no question about it,” said Petersen.
A museum at the airfield honors those who trained for that mission.
Petersen has been helping save the buildings, and restoring them, since he first started coming to Wendover in 2000.
“The place was a complete mess when I first came here,” he said. “This has been a labor of love. We need to preserve this so that the younger generation understands the sacrifices that our World War II veterans went through.”
In the past nearly 20 years, Petersen has done a lot to bring the place back to how it used to look in the 1940s.
The hangar where the Enola Gay is based is being restored.
The Officer’s Club looks identical to how it was when pilots and crew members were based at the airfield.
Even the old control tower glistens in orange and white paint.
However, one artifact at the museum is about what happened after the war.
It also might be the most important piece here.
“It’s really significant,” said Petersen while unlocking a display case. “This is a pretty big deal.”
It would be easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention to the dozens of displays, but inside a plastic case in the corner of a room, and inside a wooden box within that case, is a small piece of paper in the shape of a crane.
“This little teeny tiny crane was folded out of a piece of medicine paper,” said Petersen as he took the wooden box out of the display case.
The story of Sadako Sasaki, the person who folded that crane, is known around the world.
Sadako was 2 years old when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.
“She survived the atomic blast, but she got leukemia when she was 11,” said Petersen.
Before she died, Sadako wanted to fold a thousand paper cranes.
“The Japanese legend is if you fold a thousand paper cranes, you’ll get good luck or you’ll get your wish,” said Petersen.
Sadako wanted peace.
After she died, Sadako was buried with most of the paper cranes she folded.
However, her family kept a few and have been donating them to historical sites around the world.
In 2017, Sadako’s nephew came to Wendover to donate one to the Historic Wendover Airfield Museum.
“It was quite an emotional ordeal,” said Petersen. “The crane is given as an offer of reconciliation. We’re not blaming them for starting the war, and they’re not blaming us for ending the war. It’s simply a token of reconciliation.”
There is a paper crane on display at Pearl Harbor as well as the 9/11 Memorial on New York City.
“There are only six places in the United States that have received these,” said Petersen. “To get one here in Wendover, the meaning is very, very significant.”
In a museum full of weapons to win a war, it's a small piece of folded paper that might contain the most important lesson. Here's our story for @KSL5TV on the 74th anniversary of the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan during World War II.
🎥@seanrestes #Hiroshima #HiroshimaDay pic.twitter.com/YSU2WGTkqJ
— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) August 7, 2019
In a museum full of weapons to win a war, a folded little piece of paper shows it just might be possible to win with love.
“We see all the guns and bombs and this and that and the other and this is kind of the one piece that symbolizes peace,” said Petersen. “Most people have the hope for a better future. Everybody just needs to continue on doing their best and trying to make it a better world.”
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