What’s more patriotic than eating a corn dog at the all-American Kern County Fair? Eating a corn dog at the all-American Kern County Fair while looking at a gigantic military display from Minter Field.
It seems a little inconceivable, but in all the decades the fair has spent honoring local traditions and institutions like livestock, agriculture, the oil industry and arts and crafts, there has never been a military display of any size, said Maj. Gen. James Whitehead, vice chairman of the Minter Field Air Museum in Shafter.
It was an omission Kern County Fair CEO Mike Olcott was determined to address this year.
“We wanted to focus on aerospace,” Olcott said. “We even thought of bringing in Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake, but security is so tight. Minter Field is right here and it worked out well. It’s a big attraction.”
Whitehead seconded that description with dimensions.
“It’s 120 feet by 120 feet, a big space. We will fill it.”
The exhibit features artifacts, replicas and other items from many of the wars the U.S. has fought since its founding, but the main concentration is on the world wars, Whitehead said. One of two tents will focus on Baron Manfred von Richthofen, or the Red Baron, the German ace of World War I and inspiration for a regular Charles M. Schulz “Peanuts” feature starring Snoopy.
“We have a replica of his tri-wing airplane, the Fokker Dr.1, that will be displayed, from plans from the Smithsonian Museum,” Whitehead said. “You don’t see it around here often.”
Inside the tent will be replicas of the baron’s uniform and medals, among other material. Occasionally during the fair, Minter Field historian Karl Bender will share his insights on von Richthofen in his presentation “The Baron: The Man, the Myth and the Pop Culture.”
Bender will try to correct some of the misconceptions and downright falsehoods about the baron propagated in pop culture and books, particularly the glowing account written by Hermann Goering, himself a World War I ace who would go on to found the Gestapo and become a chief deputy to Hitler during World War II.
But the German display makes up only part of Minter Field’s collection of World War I artifacts and replicas.
“We have one of the best World War I displays you can find just anywhere in the state,” Whitehead said.
The general is particularly fond of a World War I item donated by a Shafter farmer, whose father, an Army medic, kept a diary of his wartime experiences.
“One of my favorite entries is: ‘I’m cold, I’m wet and I think we got lost today, and we’re having cold jerky again tonight.’”
Among other World War I items are uniforms, boots, an infantry kit that included foot powder to guard against the pervasive threat of trench foot, a breakdown razor, canteens, mess kits and containers in which soldiers would carry coffee, meat, salt and pepper.
“Very few people know anything about World War I,” Whitehead said, “or even World War II, for that matter.”
In addition to items from both world wars, several vehicles will be on display, including a Vietnam-era Light Observation Helicopter and Jeep, both available for $1 photo ops, whose proceeds go directly to the museum.
There also will be a 1940 Plymouth staff car that belonged to the commander of Gardner Army Airfield in Taft, and an L-3 observation and liaison aircraft, much like the one used by Col. Carl Pyle, Minter Field’s first commander, around the time of the base’s official dedication in 1942.
From modern-day U.S. engagements, there will be a Humvee among the collection, with a replica 50-caliber gun.
A raffle will be held, at $10 a ticket, for a basket of U-2 spy plane items. The first 55 U-2s were built in Oildale, on Norris Road, said Whitehead, himself a U-2 pilot from 1965-67.
“Our unit deployed around the world,” said the general, who, decades removed from active duty, was still wary of giving too much away.
The fair display will honor Minter Field’s WASPs, or Women Airforce Service Pilots, who freed up combat pilots by performing other aviation tasks, like ferrying aircraft. A uniform and medals will be included in the tribute.
Also special is a collection of six flags, called “modern copies,” that represent many of America’s wars.
“There’s the 13-star flag from the Continental Army during the Revolution, the 15-star flag from the War of 1812, which is the one Francis Scott Key saw when he wrote ‘The Star- Spangled Banner.’”
Represented as well will be both flags from the Civil War — the 34-star flag of the Union, and the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy. The remaining banners are the 48-star flag of both world wars and the 50-star flag from Vietnam and beyond.
“It should be fun,” Whitehead said. “It’s the first time we’ve been there, and I don’t think there’s ever been a military display of this size at the fair, ever. It’s a first. And we want to make it memorable through education and enjoyment.”