Cold War-era wall mural comes down
By Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake, 55th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 07, 2019
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
If art could talk, the 40-foot mural, once running along most of the Global Lounge’s north wall, would have a lot to say.
“You would do business all week long and then find yourself in the lounge Friday night talking to one of your compatriots or your immediate commander and you would talk about subjects you didn’t talk about during the week,” said U.S. Air Force retired Lt. Col. Max Moore, who began frequenting the club in the 1970s. “Camaraderie – that is what it was all about. No matter how stressful your week was, you came in there and you decompressed. And I am not the only one to say this, there was also a lot of business done in the officer’s club as well.”
At the time of its unveiling, the lounge’s mural was at the epicenter of the, then, officer’s club – the place to be on any given night. Local Omaha artist, Bill J. Hammon, by request of the Strategic Air Command Consultation Committee, commissioned the first two-thirds of the piece from 1958 to 1965.
“If you had friends, or family or neighbors, and you took them out there for a social time or dinner, the first thing you did was walk over to the wall and show it to them,” Moore said. “It was a source of pride. The mural defined the club. It gave the Global Lounge its name, and is what made the officer’s club unique.”
During this time and the years to follow, Offutt Air Force Base was growing exponentially as Strategic Air Command’s role in the Cold War expanded – going as far as to make headlines in Hollywood where it was depicted in no less than four feature films.
At some point a decision was made to cover the mural. In the 1990’s the decision was reversed, the lounge renovated and artist, Thomas Knonen added the final third of the piece.
“The mural depicts the approach patterns for various famous cities,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Mark Strehle, Strategic Air Command Museum curator. “The idea being that if you are flying into these approach patterns, these are the views you would see.”
The piece is comprised of 13 panels of plywood adorned with oil paint and mediums such as foam, paper and cardboard to create a 3-D effect in selective areas.
“We were invited to come and recover and conserve the piece,” Strehle said. “The mural has seen some damage of the last 60 years from people touching it due to the 3-D effect. We thought there would be more of that in the future.”
Strehle, along with eight volunteers, made a several reconnaissance trips to the base in order to plan the removal. In January the official move was made.
Back at the museum, the staff are performing additional inventory, repacking and research on the piece as they await word from the Air Force museum on the mural’s future.
“If the Air Force wants the piece, we will ship it to them,” Strehle said. “If they don’t, they may pick it up on their inventory and then sign it over to us at our museum or they may determine that it is not suitable for the direction they are going with the museum. In which case, it would default to our museum and then we will pick it up on our own books.”
Although the piece may never rub elbows with the caliber of dignitaries and socialites it once did, no matter the resting place, its beauty and story will continue to impact those who behold it.
“Photographs and drawings and things are nice, but the emotive content that went into creating each level of art here … sings to the honor, the integrity, the commitment, the loyalty, of the United States Air Force and all the Airmen in it,” said Strehle.