Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands near Australia, is a long way from Kalamazoo.
But the Air Zoo in the West Michigan city is home to the National Guadalcanal Memorial Museum, which tells the story of the first major offensive by Allied Forces against the Japanese in the Pacific theater during World War II.
The Battle of Guadalcanal began on August 7, 1942 when the American-led Allies seized the strategic location from the occupying Japanese.
Difficult and bloody battles continued on the challenging jungle terrain, in the air and at sea until February 9, 1943 when the Japanese evacuated the area.
In 1982 the Guadalcanal Campaign Veterans Association selected the Air Zoo to house its collection, which includes a tribute to 20 Guadalcanal Medal of Honor recipients. In addition to the Wall of honor there are articles, photos, artifacts, model ships and dioramas describing the six-month campaign.
The events of 69 years ago didn’t seem so distant when I saw items that had been carried by the young American military: one Marine’s knife, and another soldier’s mess kit, etched with a tropical scene.
There’s a hand grenade, and a naval pilots survival gear including a signaling device and fishing kit.
A jar holds a sampling of sand that someone collected and carried home from Red Beach on Guadalcanal.
A Japanese bayonet and a piece of one of their bombs are under glass, as are flying goggles that had been worn by an enemy, and a Japanese soldier’s diary, filled with his tidy writing.
It’s a sobering exhibit a long way from the Solomon Islands.
Admission to the Air Zoo,which features a collection of restored vintage aircraft, indoor amusement and flight simulator rides and other exhibits, is $8 and includes the National Guadalcanal Memorial Museum.
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