LIHUE — One of Kauai’s best-kept secrets is the Kauai Veterans Museum.
And that is a problem.
“When people come through, they go, ‘This is the best museum I’ve seen. I didn’t know this was here,’” said Mike Johnson, a Vietnam War veteran.
Johnson and others would like to change that. They want people to know where this clean, cozy and beloved museum is located (at the Kauai Veterans Center just off Kapule Highway near the Lihue Airport), and they want to raise some money to improve it, too.
“This museum is great for our community,” he said. “From the Civil War to what’s happening now, kids can learn from it — it’s a wonderful place.”
Plans are underway to make it even better.
The Kauai Veterans Museum is presenting “A Night at The Museum” — a Broadway show to salute Armed Forces — on June 24 at the Kauai Veterans Center. It will include reenactment of scenes from the popular TV series, “MASH,” which ran from 1972 to 1983. It was about the 4077th, a mobile surgical hospital, that took care of the injured during the Korean War. “MASH” was also a 1970 movie.
The fifth annual fundraiser will include dinner, music and a silent auction. It will be held outside on the lawn.
The funds will go to help pay for remodeling and restoration of the museum, which has undergone only slight changes since it was built nearly 25 years ago.
Termites have damaged many of the wooden display cases. The goal is to replace those with metal structures.
“It will guard the artifacts and last for decades,” Johnson said. “We’ve been taking things out and storing them.”
The museum also needs a temperature-controlled storage room to preserve artifacts, and organizers hope to start an education program.
Aida Cruz, one of the fundraiser organizers and Kauai Veterans Center event coordinator, said they hope to remodel the museum to create more space for exhibits, and improve flow for visitors so it takes them through the decades of war and tells a story.
The project is five years in the planning.
“We have so many military artifacts that we can’t even show,” Cruz said. “We literally have to turn them away because we just don’t have room.”
The changes, Johnson said, “will be expensive” and will be done in phases as funding is available.
“Unless somebody comes up with a whole lot of donations,” Johnson said, laughing.
Admission to the museum is free. Most folks who tour it make a donation, which is always appreciated.
Cruz would love to see more people visit the museum that pays tribute to many of Kauai’s decorated veterans. There are rare pictures, plaques, documents, uniforms and models. She hopes “A Night at The Museum” raises awareness of the history it holds among both locals and visitors.
Organizers want the veterans museum to be a stronger part of the community.
“We hear this all the time. ‘Oh, we didn’t know we had a military museum here,’” she said. “It’s just tucked away in the corner. Nobody knows that it’s here.”
For the “MASH” reenactment, which is being directed by Brenda Biehler Turville, the lawn will be turned into a medical installation unit.
One of the three acts will include a helicopter that lands with the wounded. Others will be humorous, as the TV show often was, with shower scenes and collapsing tents.
Throughout, local actors will interact with the guests.
Dickie Chang, a volunteer helping promote the event, said there are many veterans on Kauai. An improved veterans museum would be a tribute to their courageous actions and sacrifices.
“Many parents never told anybody what they saw,” he said. “They lived with that. These guys came home and went to work.”
Johnson said it’s important to protect the Kauai Veterans Museum for two key reasons.
One, it has items you won’t find elsewhere. And two, for the veterans.
“We want to make sure this future generation has something to see because of their father, their grandfather, and what they did,” he said.
Chang said he believes there is a resurgence in interest in past wars and those who fought them.
“But there will come a time there might not be anybody there to tell the story,” he said. “That’s why this museum is critical, to tell their story.”
Tickets for “A Night at The Museum” are $75 in advance, and $90 after June 1. They are available at the Kauai Veterans Museum, the Kauai Museum, Pono Market, Scotty’s Music House Kauai, Ono Family Restaurant, Hanalei Surf, Progressive Expressions Inc., Kalaheo Cafe and Ishihara Market.