WENDOVER — It's been busy inside a particular hangar at the Wendover airport lately.
But it's when things are quiet that there is a sense of what's going on.
"You absolutely can," said Jim Petersen, Wendover's airport director, "You can kind of feel the veterans that are still in there."
Petersen isn't just talking about any hangar. He's talking about the Enola Gay hangar.
The Enola Gay is the B-29 Superfortress bomber that carried the first atomic bomb as a weapon of war, which was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later the Enola Gay carried a crew that provided weather reconnaissance when another B-29, named Bockscar, dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki.
The crews that trained for that first mission were based in Wendover.
"Some of the visitors who come here know what went on here," said Petersen, "But a lot of the visitors who come out to Wendover to gamble don't really know what's here."
That's not a big surprise because for nearly 60 years, the hangar was neglected, its walls rusting and windows broken.
Now, though, the hangar is being restored. Thanks to a Save America's Treasures Grant from the National Park Service, work has been going on at the hangar for about a year.
Ultimately, Petersen would like to see the hangar and surrounding buildings where the crew trained listed as a National Historic Monument. "The people that come really need to know what went on. They really need to understand the story and the sacrifices of our World War II veterans," said Petersen.
The hangar is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but getting on the monuments list would bring it more attention.
First, though, there is a lot of work to be done.
"It's a challenge because it's an old building and it's not the straightest building," said construction supervisor Matt Gates. "But we'll get it done. It needs to be done."
Inmates from the Utah State Prison System are working on the project, which cuts costs. "It's pretty cool, really," said D.J. Callioux, one of the inmates fixing the roof.
Callioux says he researched the Enola Gay once he found out he would be working on the hangar. Leaning about the airplane's place in history gave him a greater appreciation of the work that needed to be done.
He also says it made him appreciate the little things. "When you go to prison, you lose everything," said Callioux, who is serving time on drug distribution charges, "so being able to come out here means I'm a lucky person. It's a lot of freedom. It gets us back to getting used to the real world and society and not just mildewing in prison."10 comments on this story
Callioux is set to be released in two weeks after having served two years.
"I think a lot of these guys come from backgrounds where they didn't appreciate much," said Gates, who is also in charge of the inmate construction team, "Getting to come out here gives them a chance to be ready for the outside world. They're learning a trade and a little about the history of this state."
It's a piece of history that is finally being remembered.
"It really deserves a great deal more than where we are," said Petersen, "but we've made a lot of progress."