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Wendover 'Enola Gay' hangar being restored

By Alex Cabrero | Posted - May 20, 2011 at 10:45 p.m.


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WENDOVER — It's been busy inside a particular hangar at the Wendover airport lately. But it's when things are quiet that you really can get a sense of what's going on.

"You absolutely can," said Jim Petersen, Wendover's airport director. "You can kind of feel the veterans that are still in there."

Petersen isn't just talking about any hangar. He's talking about the Enola Gay hangar.

The Enola Gay is the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II, essentially winning the war for America.

The crews that trained for that mission were based in Wendover.

"Some of the visitors who come here know what went on here," Petersen said, "but a lot of the visitors who come out to Wendover to gamble don't really know what's here."

You really can't blame them. For nearly 60 years, the hangar was neglected — walls rusted, holes formed in the room, and windows were broken.

What is ... the Enola Gay?
Enola Gay is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, named after Enola Gay Tibbets, mother of pilot Paul Tibbets. On 6 August 1945, during the final stages of World War II, it became the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb as a weapon of war. -Wikipedia

Now, though, the hangar is being restored. Thanks to a Save America's Treasures Grant from the National Park Service, work has been going on at the hangar for about a year.

Ultimately, Petersen would like to see the hangar, and surrounding buildings where the crew trained, to be listed as a National Historic Monument.

"The people that come really need to know what went on. They really need to understand the story and the sacrifices of our World War II veterans," Petersen said.

The hangar is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but getting on the monuments list would bring it more attention.

First, though, there is a lot of work to be done.

"It's a challenge because it's an old building and it's not the straightest building," said Matt Gates, a construction supervisor. "But we'll get it done. It needs to be done."

To save money on construction costs, inmates from the Utah State Prison System are being used.

"It's pretty cool, really," said D.J. Callioux, one of the inmates fixing the roof.

Callioux said he researched the Enola Gay once he found out he would be working on the hangar. Learning about the airplane's place in history gave him a greater appreciation of the work that needed to be done. He says it also made him appreciate the little things.

"When you go to prison, you lose everything," said Callioux, who is serving time on drug distribution charges, "so being able to come out here means I'm a lucky person. It's a lot of freedom. It gets us back to getting used to the real world and society and not just mildewing in prison."

Callioux is set to be released in two weeks, after having served two years.

"I think a lot of these guys come from backgrounds where they didn't appreciate much," said Gates, who is also in charge of the inmate construction team. "Getting to come out here gives them a chance to be ready for the outside world. They're learning a trade and a little about the history of this state."

It's a history that is finally being remembered.

"It really deserves a great deal more than where we are," said Petersen, "but we've made a lot of progress."

Email: acabrero@ksl.com

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