Things to do in or around BILLINGS, MT
Love at First Sight
It all began with John Paul’s passion for airplanes. In the 1950s, he watched and listened as two Corsair fighter planes ripped through the sky over his third-grade classroom. He purchased his first plane by the time he was 20: a Fairchild PT-19 WWII trainer with an open cockpit.
Further down the road, John met a woman named Sue Painter and the two fell in love. In 1964, the couple married and purchased a P-40E shortly after, which they restored at their home in California.Source
Many years of restoring planes passed when in 1978, the couple discovered parts of a P-40N buried in a Canadian farm field.Source John nicknamed the plane “Curtissaurus Rex” upon seeing the shape of the plane. They received help from a local farmer who remembered watching the burial of the plane 23 years earlier. In order to bring the plane back to California with them, they spent two days salvaging the buried parts, digging them up and loading them onto a truck.
The Museum Is Born
In 1986, Sue and John Paul moved to Boise, Idaho with two WWII era planes. When John began restoring a third plane in a hangar at the Caldwell Airport, people gathered to watch and witness the revival of history. Visitors began leaving boxes filled with WWII memorabilia, like uniforms and equipment, with notes attached that said, “Maybe you can do something with this.” The Paul’s knew they needed to preserve this history.
The museum began in that hangar at the Caldwell airport, but by 2000, there were so many donated pieces of history that they decided to relocate to Nampa.Source
In the ensuing 24 years, the museum has grown immensely. What started as a tribute to WWI/WWII veterans has expanded to include veterans’ history from the Iraq War, Persian Gulf War, Vietnam War, Korean War and Cold War.
Throughout the museum, donations from community members are also on display to educate future generations about national and local history. Families of local veterans and the veterans themselves have donated one-of-a-kind collections of uniforms, photos, medals, gear and written narratives describing battle experiences.