The murals at the entrance of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum looked similar to the last time David Bontrager visited.

Everything else, including the entrance, is completely different.

Bontrager of Ellsworth was one of 70 World War II veterans and special guests who were invited to the 75th D-Day Commemoration last Thursday and got a sneak peak at the unfinished museum renovation.

“It’s totally different from what I remembered before. It had a lot of displays of artifacts. This is going to be real interesting, I think,” he said.

75 percent complete

Meredith Sleichter, executive director of the Eisenhower Foundation, said the $11.7 million museum renovation was about 75 percent complete.

“Today what you see is not a finished product,” she said to the veterans and guests. “We are not open to the public right now.”

She expects the museum to be open to the public in late July.

“So what you see today is where we are at in the process on our new exhibit, but you will come away with a good sense of what it looks like,” she said.

Sleichter said it was important for the veterans to see the museum changes.

“Our original intent was to be open by today,” she said.

The 35-day shutdown of the U.S. Government earlier in the year delayed the renovation.

“That didn’t happen but we still felt it was important to have it open so our World War II veterans here today could see it,” she said.

D-Day event

Bontrager said he received an invitation to attend the event.

“I couldn’t hardly believe it,” he said.

Bontrager was accompanied by his son Brian, also of Ellsworth. His grandson, Rex Bontrager of Abilene who served three tours of duty, was unable to attend.

Bontrager said that back in Ellsworth he has coffee with other former veterans but none are from World War II.

“All the veterans are from Korea or Vietnam. So I got this invitation to the 75th anniversary of D-Day and I didn’t understand it. But one of the veterans said it was because I was a World War II veteran,” he said.

In Abilene he was able to visit with fellow World War II soldiers.

“It was fascinating,” Bontrager said of the day commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Bontrager said he was in the 82nd Airborne.

“I packed and repacked a lot of parachutes,” he said. “I enjoyed that.”

He said his outfit was on its way to Saipan when word was received that Japan had surrendered.

“Like I told my children and my grandchildren, if (President Harry) Truman hadn’t dropped the atomic bomb, I would have probably never made it,” he said.

Presidential passport

Shane McGuire of Fort Worth, Texas, was in Abilene on his final tour of all 13 presidential museums and libraries.

McGuire participated in the Passport to Presidential Libraries, where visitors received a commemorative stamp from every presidential library visited.

“I found the ‘W’ brand new in Dallas. I didn’t really know what a presidential library/museum was. I had no idea what these things are. I went over there and I realized there were more.”

He first visited the three in Texas: Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

“I realized I was going to keep doing this. I went up to Little Rock for the Clinton, then started buying up plane tickets so I could go to the others across the country,” McGuire said.

He said he went to all of the museums and the libraries, where he did research in each one of them.

“I studied at least one document or article in each place, something important,” he said.

He said that when he visited the library and museum for Gerald Ford, which are in different Michigan cities — the museum in Grand Rapids and the library in Ann Arbor — he stayed in the middle between the two.

“So one day I went to the library and the next I went to the museum,” he said.

McGuire was most impressed with the Ronald Reagan museum.

“He has an Air Force One inside the building. That really blows my mind. That is a phenomenal fantastic museum. There was a holographic introduction for about 15 minutes that was very convincing.”

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.