Confession: I like museums; and I especially like unlikely museums. Take, for example, the humble-looking blue-roofed metal building near the entrance of the North Texas Regional Airport. This structure—easily mistaken for a low-rent industrial building—is the home of the Perrin Air Force Base Historical Museum. It’s an airplane museum, and a whole lot more. But to understand that, you need to know a few things about the unlikely history of the base.
Back in the 1940s, the county fathers of Grayson County north of Dallas hoped to attract some sort of federal facility to provide jobs and money to the community. They dispatched County Judge Jake J. Loy on a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to convince the feds to build a munitions factory on a piece of land they conveniently owned in the middle of nowhere, between the towns of Dennison and Sherman.
But he did score an Army Air Force training base instead. And thus was born Perrin Field.
It actually opened before World War II, but like most of the 783 Army Air Force fields built in the continental U.S. during the war, it was shuttered almost as soon as the ink was dry on the Japanese Instrument of Surrender.
But the Perrin story didn’t end there. Unlike most of the AAF bases, which got turned over to local communities to serve as municipal airports, Perrin got a second lease on military life.
The base reopened a few years later during the Korean conflict, and evolved to become a major training base for the United States Air Force during the cold war. It stayed active until 1971, when finally, like its World War II brothers, it was turned over to the local community and ultimately became North Texas Regional Airport.
But while it was open, because it was a large military base in a warm climate, retirees from all branches of the service settled in the area to take advantage of the base’s medical facilities and discount base exchange.
Which brings us back to our museum. Run by the non-profit Perrin Field Historical Society, its charter is to “record and preserve the story of Perrin Field during thirty years of operating as a active military installation.”
And it does that through a splendid collection of artifacts donated by service men (and women) who worked at the base.
The collection ranges from uniforms, to training aids, to an honest-to-God jet training airplane. Cases and cases of fascinating artifacts fill the building, which is run by cheerful volunteers who guide you through the collection answering questions and pointing out things you might otherwise miss, like the fact that the picture of the P-40 on the wall isn’t a picture. It’s cross-stitch.
And it’s not just Air Force Stuff. Remember all those retirees from other braches of the service I told you about? Retired Marines, Soldiers, and Seaman have been generous with their memorabilia. In fact, the museum volunteers tell me it’s not unusual for them to show up at work in the morning and find—like an abandoned baby on the doorstep—a box of artifacts sitting by the front door. One time, they arrived to find an anonymously donated military surgeon’s kit, complete with morphine from the 1950s!
The kit, minus the morphine now, is on display.
Like many small museums, you can get up close and personal with the collection and there are plenty of things for children and the young at heart to get hands-on with.
So should you find yourself in Dennison-Sherman (hey, it could happen), make time to spend a few hours at this little treasure of a museum.