When Paul Allen opened the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, he explained that the undertaking had as much to do with people as it did impressive machinery.
“I started collecting these unique aircraft not only to preserve the planes, but even more important, to preserve the human stories they really represent,” Allen said during the museum’s opening in 2004.
Technological visionary, philanthropist, sports owner, music enthusiast—Allen was a modern-day renaissance man who packed so much into his 65 years of life, and among his many interests was a passion for World War II aircraft, vehicles and artifacts that was inspired by his father’s service in the U.S. Army.
For his commitment to preserving military history, honoring those who were lost, reconnecting those who fought side by side and sharing what he found with the world, Allen, who died last month from complications of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, is the Seattle Seahawks’ nominee for the 2018 Salute to Service Award.
Allen began collecting World War II-era aircraft in 1998, eventually moving them to Paine Field in Everett where they are displayed at his Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum. But the museum isn’t just about the 26 aircrafts and 19 tanks on display, it’s also about how honoring an important part of our country’s past helps connect people.
When Allen’s production company, in partnership with NBC Learn, launched "Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation,” one of the viewers of that oral history happened to be Ray Owen Jr., who recognized the name of someone interviewed on the show, former U.S. Navy Commander Robert Turnell, and wondered if it was the same Turnell who had served with his father in World War II.
With the help of the museum, Turnell of Bothell, Wash. who was 93 at the time, and Owen of Detroit, who was 95, were reunited in a special moment not only for the two men, but their families as well.
“Growing up we heard a lot of war stories from dad,” said Ray Owen Jr. “To see these guys come together as 95 and 93-year-old men has been an extremely heartwarming and emotional experience for both our families.”
Allen also combined his passion for World War II history and his considerable resources to assemble a multi-disciplined team of researchers, engineers, and explorers to locate historically significant wreckage and explore underwater ecosystems.
In recent years, Allen’s teams have discovered the underwater wreckage of the USS Lexington, the USS Indianapolis, the USS Ward, the USS Astoria, Japanese battleship Musashi, and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere.
And again, those missions weren’t just about finding ships that were lost decades ago, they were about providing answers and in some cases closure for families who lost loved ones in World War II.
As Jae Anderson, whose father Bob Hale was killed when the USS Indianapolis sank in 1945, five months before she was born, told the Seattle Times after watching a PBS special on the discovery of the USS Indianapolis, “All of that was just so powerful. It was meaningful.”
David Mearns, a marine scientist and historical researcher who worked with Allen, shared the following: “Paul’s interest in marine exploration and shipwrecks was very personal, which grew in part from his father’s service during WWII. But in pursuing his passion and curiosity he also invited the world to join these exciting explorations through the computers he helped create. His important discoveries and illumination of naval history have ensured that the sacrifice of those who served is not forgotten.”
Allen also extended his dedication to military personnel through the team’s numerous programs honoring military members, veterans and their families. This included special recognition moments during every home game, visits by team members to military bases, bringing service members and veterans to practices, and private outreach to Gold Star families.
Seattle-area landmarks, structures, and buildings lit up blue in honor of Paul Allen, the Seahawks owner who died from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.