A new museum for veterans opened Friday in the Superstition Springs Center.
It is the latest endeavor of the Mesa-based Wingspan Air Heritage Foundation, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting veterans. The museum consists of alternating displays to promote veterans. There are stories recounted from veterans, as well.
It opened Friday in honor of Memorial Day.
"We want to get as many people to learn about our vets as possible," said Jeff Furnari, Wingspan Air president and executive director. Furnari hopes the mall location will attract many visitors.
"(Mall owner) Westcor is very pro-community and pro-veteran," Furnari said when asked about why they choose a mall to house the museum. Superstition Springs has a lot of programs for children, he said, and "we hope to get a lot of kids."
The first display will honor the 65th anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded Europe in World War II. About four of the displays planned for the mall will detail World War II.
Furnari said the foundation, which organizes veterans events including parades, wanted the museum to celebrate World War II soldiers because of timing.
"This will probably be the last big anniversary," Furnari said. "It may be the last opportunity to promote these veterans (because of their age)."
But Furnari said the foundation isn't just focused on veterans of past wars. In the fall, there will be displays for Desert Storm and Iraq war veterans.
The displays typically consist of pictures and storyboards. Artifacts, vehicles, and aircraft will also be rotated in with displays. The physical items are designed to be secondary, however, to the personal accounts of the veterans.
"It needs to be personal," Furnari said. "It really puts things in more perspective."
According to the 2000 census, there are more than 26 million veterans in the United States and Puerto Rico. The Department of Veterans Affairs puts the veteran population of Arizona at more than 500,000 with the majority residing in Maricopa County.
Wingspan Air hopes the museum may be a way of reaching out to these veterans.
"Arizona is a veteran-rich state," Furnari said, adding the foundation hopes to work with other veteran-based programs.
"Our veterans are the ones who really wrote the pages in our history books," Furnari said. "These are the men and women we recognize and honor."