Irreplaceable Air Force artifacts saved from floodwater

Friday, April 26, 2019

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AP) — A retired lieutenant colonel and a small army of airmen have saved irreplaceable artifacts from floodwater that covered a third of an Air Force base south of Omaha.

Mike Hoskins told the Omaha World-Herald that the historical treasures of the 55th Wing were locked inside the wing historian’s office and other offices at Offutt Air Force Base as the Missouri River water rose March 16. Historian John McQueney was at his home miles away, and Hoskins knew he had little time to wait. So he called in base firefighters to break down doors.

The late-winter floods that struck several Plains states breached or overtopped levees, caused more than $3 billion in damage and killed at least three people, officials have said.

McQueney and Hoskins talked over their phones about priorities as the floodwater climbed higher. First among the rescued items were two on loan from the Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio: a giant aerial reconnaissance camera from the 1940s and a propeller from a World War II-vintage P-51 Mustang fighter.

Other items included copies of letters written during World War I by Lt. Jarvis Offutt, the base’s Omaha-born namesake.

They took away artifacts from the 55th Wing’s early days as a World War II fighter unit and from the wing’s Cold War days of flying shadowy observation missions.