"The U.S. Air Force in Vietnam" offers an overview of the Vietnam War, with emphasis on the role of the Air Force, and the aircraft and tactics used. How Hill Air Force Base supported those efforts, and the war's impact on Utah, are a big part of the exhibit.
"I think this is a unique exhibit, especially for the area," said Nathan Myers, Hill Aerospace Museum curator. "I think it's going to provide an opportunity for many generations to come and view, and learn about a very controversial conflict."
Vietnam was under French rule until World War II, when it was occupied by Japan. After that war it was returned to the French, and a resistance movement for independence rose up under communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The French were defeated in 1954, and Vietnam was divided -- North Vietnam under communist rule, and noncommunist South Vietnam.
The U.S. became involved in a conflict between the north and south, according to the exhibit, to stop the spread of communism. In the beginning, aid was limited to sending military advisers, equipment and weapons. By 1965 there were Americans on the ground and in the air.
The Air Force provided support for ground troops, serving as eyes and ears in the sky. Crews were involved in strategic bombing and reconnaissance flights, and sprayed herbicides such as Agent Orange to defoliate jungles to make it harder for the enemy to hide. They also transported troops and supplies, and made emergency rescues.
U.S. troops were removed from Vietnam in 1973, under terms of the Paris Peace Accords. North Vietnam violated the peace agreement, according to the exhibit, and with U.S. aid capped by Congress, South Vietnam fell in 1975. The Air Force and commercial airlines rushed to evacuate remaining U.S. civilian personnel and refugees.
Hill Air Force Base supported the war effort with helicopter crew training as well as engineering, supply, maintenance and repair of battle-damaged aircraft, the exhibit indicates.
The 945th Troop Carrier Group flew out of Hill Air Force Base, and the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, now assigned to Hill, put in more than 93,000 combat hours over Vietnam. Even some civilian employees were sent to airfields in combat zones.
Over the course of the war, the base became Utah's biggest employer. Personnel grew from 14,963 in 1962, to 19,493 by 1973. The annual payroll rose from $89 million to $244 million.
Millions of Americans were involved in the Vietnam War; 58,209 died. That was the number as of June 2011, the exhibit says, but numbers are still changing as new information is found. The count includes those Missing in Action who were declared dead.
Utah lost 364 men and women in the conflict, and they are remembered in the exhibit.