GREENVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Tucked away in a neighborhood in the small town of Greenville is a museum that showcases its impact during World War II, including the work of schoolchildren.
“The (Greenville High School) class (of 1943) wanted to purchase (a CG4A) glider. Back then, it was like $17,000. So they decided to help buy and sell war bonds to be able to get enough money to purchase that glider. Over the course of 90 days, they raised about $70,000,” Megan Smith, museum board member, said.
She explained that the War Department and Treasury Department caught wind of the effort and chose to advertise it to try to get more people to buy war bonds. The departments let the class have a contest to pick a name for the glider and came up with “The Flying Falcon.”
“Gibson Refrigerator, which is from Greenville, stopped making refrigerators during the war and switched over to making gliders. They were one of the main factories that produced gliders. They said, ‘(The name) doesn’t sound military enough, so let’s change it to Fighting Falcon,'” Smith said.
The glider the class of 1943 helped buy was the only glider with a label: Fighting Falcon presented by Greenville, Michigan.
Fast forward to 1993: A woman contacted Smith’s great-grandfather, a World War II veteran, and asked him to help children recreate a glider like the one the class of 1943 purchased.
“The kids ended up finding out that it just became too much work and so they kind of dropped out throughout the process of it. And so my great-grandpa brought on a guy named Eric Gunther and then brought on some more people, and over the course of 12 years, they restored a CG4A Glider,” Smith said.
According to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command History Office, the gliders had a wingspan of 84 feet, a length of 49 feet and could carry 3,750 pounds. They were built out of plywood and canvas stretched over a tubular steel frame and had a two-person crew. During the war, nearly 14,000 of these gliders were built at an average cost of $18,800 — roughly $355,000 today.
Once the restored glider was complete, it was put in the old Greenville school at 516 W. Cass St. near Cross Street, which later became the Fighting Falcon Military Museum. The name pays homage to the class of 1943 and the community’s efforts during the war.
When visitors enter the museum, they are greeted by a volunteer and are asked to sign the guest book before entering the WWII area.
“Right in the center, you have a display of different helmets, we have … Nazi uniforms and stuff soldiers brought. We have a lot of metals, a lot of knives that are in this case. And then along the walls all the way around are uniforms, displays and pictures of different Greenville veterans,” Smith said.
In the main room is an incendiary bomb, the rebuilt glider and the rope that would tow the glider.
“We have one side of the glider to show you what it looks like without the fabric on it so you can see the intricate wood pieces and then you can see how small the bolts were. And we have mannequins set up to make it seem like you are in Gibson,” Smith said. “And you go around to the other side and it has the fabric on it. So you’d see what it would look like finished.”
“My grandpa and the people that worked on it really wanted to show how much work went into it and what it took to make this glider,” she added.
Smith’s great-grandfather, who died in 2021, has been memorialized in an interview explaining the process of rebuilding the glider.
“It’s probably my favorite because I get to watch him talk about (the glider). It was his passion… It was his baby. It was his pride and joy, so being able to watch him tell his interview and tell his story about it is probably my favorite,” she said.
For those wondering what it would be like to fly a glider, there’s a simulation game for you to give it a go.
In another room, visitors can explore the Pacific theater of the war.
“We have models of the Navy ships, we have different stories and we have the big missile casings … and some uniforms,” Smith said.
Also on the main level is an exhibit on women who were in the service, a homefront display and a list of all the veterans from Greenville.
Upstairs, visitors can explore exhibits on the Civil War and Greenville veterans as well as WWI, Korea, Vietnam and modern conflict exhibits.
There’s also a library dedicated to Roger B. Chaffee, a Grand Rapids native who became an astronaut and died in a test mission on Apollo 1, according to the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The library is filled with history books that the public can flip through at the library or check out and bring home.
The museum is free admission but donations are welcome. The museum is open on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. from April to November. To make an appointment to visit the museum outside of those times, call 616.754.6991. For more information visit the museum’s website.