New exhibit highlights "100 Mission Patch"

Mar 20, 2009

A new exhibit opened at the National Museum of the United States Air Force Thursday. It's called "100 Missions Up North" and it highlights the stories of airmen who flew over North Vietnam and surrounding countries during the war in Southeast Asia.

The new exhibit focuses on a blue patch that airmen would wear on their uniform. It reads North Vietnam, 100 Missions, F-105. F105 refers to an aircraft that was involved in missions during the late 1960s. At that time, it was more likely than not that an F105 airmen would be shot down at least once during their tour, so chances of actually acheiving 100 missions were slim. For the men involved, the patch became a symbol of courage.

Jeff Duford is the curator of the exhibit. He says that because of the unpopularity of the war at that time, many of these stories have not been told until now.

"Time is relentless and so much of our history is out there to be researched but it just gets past us," says Duford.

Very little information exists about this tradition. Because of that, Duford says the exhibits not only highlights the stories of the airman, but also shows their culture.

"Like when a pilot finished a mission, they were hosed down or thrown into a pool," says Duford, "Every pilot when they came in theater, they got a boonie hat and they would keep track of their missions on that hat. They used hash marks. A lot of guys grew mustaches, because if they have a bulletproof mustache, they can't be shot down. So, a lot of guys had long handlebar mustaches."

Duford says this kind of exhibit is a valuable addition to the museum's collection.

"You know, we have a lot of great aircraft in this museum, but the exhibits that really show what it's like to go through these experiences, whatever time period it may be, I think are the ones that are the most engaging. And this exhibit is about people," says Duford.

The "100 Missions Up North" exhibit opened this week. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum.