Julie McDonald Commentary: Facelift for Veterans Museum’s Desert Fox Scheduled


The Desert Fox, a historic heavy fighter bomber moved three years ago to the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, will receive a facelift this spring, courtesy in large part to the F-105 Thunderchief Preservation Society.

Gordon Ponsford of Ponsford Ltd. in Georgia, masters of conservation of historic artifacts, will restore the Desert Fox at a cost of about $25,000, said Chip Duncan, executive director of the museum.

The nonprofit Thunderchief society, which has more than a thousand Facebook members, is a group that banded together to help preserve, restore, and maintain the remaining F-105 aircraft on static display. In its second restoration effort, it provided a matching grant for half the expense of restoring the Desert Fox, also known as Republic F-105D 62-4299. The Veterans Museum will pick up the remaining cost.

During the Vietnam War, crews aboard the Desert Fox and other F-105s flew combat missions in Southeast Asia, striking heavily defended targets on the ground. It was originally designed as a nuclear bomber by Alexander Khartveley for the Russian Naval Academy, but it was converted to drop conventional bombs during the Vietnam War, according to a 1984 article in the Vacaville Reporter. 

In January 1968, the plane was among the F-105s ordered to respond to North Korean aggression in its capture of the USS Pueblo, an environmental research ship, or spy ship. The F-105, in service for more than two decades beginning in 1963, was stationed in Thailand, Korea and Japan, and in the United States in Virginia, Texas, Utah, Nevada and California. It later served as a model for plastic airplane kits sold throughout the United States. The Desert Fox was retired in 1984 to Travis Air Force Base in California.

“She is the last F-105D to serve on active duty, being recalled from Virginia’s Air National Guard to serve as a combat trainer at Nellis [AFB],” Brian Koetting stated on the society’s Facebook page. “She is the only F-105 to be painted in desert camouflage. Hence, her nickname, Desert Fox.”

He said restoration was scheduled to begin June 27, but Duncan estimated work would begin in May. 

The supersonic, tactical fighter-bomber arrived at the museum on loan in July 2018, transported from California by Worldwide Aircraft Recovery.

The Veterans Museum is gearing up for more activities during a post-pandemic world but noted that, like last year, the annual Memorial Day services at Claqauto Cemetery to honor fallen military members will once again be canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

However, the museum will host a 1 p.m. Memorial Day service outside focusing on its Veterans Tree of Life.

“All are welcome to come and pause and reflect on the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans who gave their very last measure in the defense of liberty,” the museum website states.

Every Saturday, Centralia Cruise occurs at the museum from 3 to 5 p.m., and at 5:10 p.m. the drivers rev their engines and switch on their lights for a slow convoy into Chehalis and up Kresky Avenue to Centralia.

People who remember going to drive-in movies may experience a bit of nostalgia the last Saturday of every month when the museum hosts an outdoor movie night. Films will be shown on a 10- by 20-foot screen with the museum sound system broadcasting the sound to people seated outside while those in cars can tune in via an FM radio station. The first movie night is May 29, followed by similar movie nights the last Saturday of June, July, August, and September.

On July 3, the museum will host the Spirit of ’76 Living History Association, re-enactors who will perform as American colonists battling those loyal to King George in an all-day event featuring military and civilian demonstrations of early colonial life. The event begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. It’ll take place as Centralia celebrates the nation’s birthday with a Summerfest-lite in keeping with coronavirus health and safety guidelines.

Swap meets, car shows, and craft shows are also planned, along with the Aug. 15 All Veterans Remembrance Day.

It’s nice to see the museum, a gem in our community, flourishing despite curtailment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.