By LOUIS CASIANO JR. / STAFF WRITER
COSTA MESA — Stu Evans treasures the British half-penny he stored in the shoulder pocket of his naval flight suit while piloting more than 150 missions in Vietnam.
The coin now sits on public display in the newly opened Heroes Hall veterans museum at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Next to it lies a Japanese flag taken off an enemy combatant and a cumberbund his older brother, Charles Evans, brought back from World War II.
In another area, rests a pair of Marine combat boots, Vietnam War-era gear, rifles and an American flag, along with uniform patches of an Army Vietnam veteran.
“To me, it was just about honoring my brother,” Evans, of Mission Viejo, said about loaning the museum his brother’s war memorabilia.
More than 100 guests gathered Wednesday inside a refurbished two-story World War II-era barracks for the museum’s grand opening. The day was also the 75th anniversary of the Santa Ana Army Air Base, the current site of the OC Fair & Event Center.
The museum items are part of an opening exhibit based on “The Things They Carried,” a book by Tim O’Brien that tells the stories of Vietnam veterans through the items they took into combat. Additional stories are in the works to showcase objects belonging to Orange County veterans who served in more recent wars.
Another exhibit in the building honors the air base with photos and posters of the men who were stationed there, including all-time Yankee great Joe DiMaggio; Joseph Heller, the author of “Catch 22”; Gene Autry; the Women’s Air Service Pilots and the Navajo Code Talkers.
“We designed this completely different than other museums,” said Nick Berardino, chairman of the OC Fair & Event board.
The fairgrounds allocated $3.8 million for the project and another $300,000 was raised by the Heroes Hall Veterans Foundation.
From 1942-46, the air base was one of three training facilities during World War II. More…