PENSACOLA, Fla. (WALA) - The National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola is celebrating its 50-year anniversary. The 300,000 square foot facility is one of the Gulf Coast's top attractions. The museum's curator and historian Hill Goodspeed first made a connection with the museum years ago as a child. He recently shared about why he's so fortunate to have this job, the volunteers who share their personal experiences and why it's such as a special place for visitors.
"I first started visiting this museum as a kid. My grandparents lived here in Pensacola, and I would visit all the time. I've been coming here since the mid 70s. So for a lot of those 50 years, I've had some connection to the place," Goodspeed said.
Goodspeed has served as the curator and historian at the National Naval Aviation Museum since 1994. His interest and roots in United States Navy history run deep.
"My connection to Naval aviation really began in the early 1940s, 1940 to be exact, when my grandfather came down here from Joliet, Illinois to start flight training. Like many aviators, he married a Pensacola girl and they call Pensacola the mother in law of the Navy for that reason. After he got off active duty, he stayed in the reserves and decided to stay here in Pensacola and raise his two sons and one of whom was my dad," shares Goodspeed.
That decision influenced the next generation.
"My dad became a U.S. Marine officer, infantry type officer, but ended up involved in helicopters in the Vietnam War, so really it's a natural interest of mine," Goodspeed said.
Goodspeed's natural interest was also fueled by his grandfather's keepsakes, navy mementos that he loved going through. He attended college at Washington and Lee in Virginia majoring in history and journalism. The summer before his senior year Goodspeed interned at the Naval Aviation Museum. After graduation, he remembers how things fell into place.
"An opportunity opened up here where I could work here and go and get a masters degree at the University of West Florida. And then things fell into place, there was an opportunity to have a full time position here as the historian and that's what I've been here ever since," Goodspeed said.
Despite a formal education and serving as an Officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Goodspeed said he's learned a lot more in his nearly 25-years at the museum.
"There's really no degree in Naval Aviation history its' a pretty narrow niche. The people who taught me were the volunteers. I really learned at the knees of a lot of those guys, they really indoctrinated me in what naval aviation history was all about. Those life experiences in naval aviation, that teaches me as a historian," shared Goodspeed.
"Naval Aviation and the United States Navy is over 100 years old, quite a heritage that I get to work around every day. It is a draw for anybody who's ever been exposed to Naval Aviation they generally will make a trip here to Pensacola," believed Goodspeed.
Goodspeed and the volunteers get satisfaction sharing with the thousands who make the trip.
"You can see the results of your efforts in telling naval aviation stories instantaneously. Maybe a grandfather, a father pointing to a grandson or granddaughter, saying this is the experience I had with this, or this is something about this plane, instant gratification on a day to day basis. The biggest satisfaction is when you can enlighten somebody about something that a relative of theirs was tied to. You're father was on this ship and it did this. He was there at this time or he flew this type of aircraft, and you can see the wonderment in their eyes," said Goodspeed.
Processing a collection, receiving rare artifacts or interviewing a veteran with a unique story, Goodspeed will tell you it's an incredible place to work.
"Almost every month I've worked here, there's something that comes in that's just fascinating. Recently, we received telegrams of a photographers mate on one of Admiral Byrd's expeditions to the Antartic. All the telegrams that he sent from the Antartic up here to Pensacola, that was their only form of communication just these cryptic very short little messages going back and forth," said Goodspeed.
Goodspeed said the only challenge of his job is due to receiving so many incredible things, like the memorabilia, diaries, letters and other stuff.
The National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola is one of the largest air and space museums in the world, but they may have one of the smaller staffs. Goodspeed said a lot of juggling goes on to handle all the responsibilities and he wears more than one hat.
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