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KEARNS - Glimpses of Kearns' military past are hard to catch amid the sprawling strip malls and suburban homes that blanket the west-side township today.

Hillside berms behind the Olympic skating oval reveal the boundary of a now-vanished obstacle course and a 600-target firing range. The train-shaped sign on The Children's Express daycare center hints at the white-siding clad building's first incarnation as a train station. The central portion of an expansive Vietnamese Catholic church once was an Army chapel.

Pam Todd, co-founder of the Kearns Historical Society, hopes establishing a Kearns history museum would make this small township's roots more apparent to folks who live in and visit the area.

The community blossomed from the remains of a World War II Army Air Force base - Camp Kearns - that sprouted in the desert in 1942 and closed in 1946. At least 100,000 men, but perhaps as many as 300,000, passed through the camp, receiving training on their way to battle, according to Todd's research. The base also played a minor role in the atomic-bomb-building Manhattan Project.

Todd and some classmates developed a passion for the camp's history as students at Kearns High School, which was built in 1966. They were among the first graduating classes.

"We always said, when we got older and didn't have to listen to our parents telling us any more how impossible it was, we would build a museum," Todd said. "We grew up calling these people our heroes, but we never knew their names."

Now she knows the names of more than 60,000 Camp Kearns soldiers and is racing to identify more before they die. She has collected 500 written histories from survivors and their families. And seven former Camp Kearns soldiers are involved with the historical society today.

One is 103-year-old Salt Lake City resident Allan Jackson, who closed the gates to Camp Kearns in 1946. As a black soldier in the last U.S. war with a segregated army, he appreciated that soldiers at Camp Kearns already were breaking down racial barriers.

"We were segregated on the base, but when we went to town, [we] got together and went to different places," Jackson recalled. "You got a chance to meet people and learn a lot from one another."

Jackson's story would be one of many shared at a Kearns history museum.

For now, Todd stores the historical society's many "treasures" in her basement. She would like to be able to display the 1943 Army hospital yearbook, old photos, military uniforms, base newspapers, recordings of the Camp Kearns Orchestra and Band and other items year-round.

But Todd is unsure if she will be able to raise money for a museum. Her plan: approach her alma mater to see if the school would support a modular building to house the artifacts on campus. It could be a hands-on lab for students to learn Kearns history.

Kearns High School Principal Steve Hess said this week he hasn't yet heard from Todd.

"It depends on what she's proposing. I don't know what we could do," Hess said. "This is a very crowded campus."

Todd hopes to work out something. She has the backing of at least one influential power broker: Kearns native Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley City.

"It's in the best interest of public education to make sure that the history of a community - of the state - is told over and over again," Mayne said. "It needs to be shown; it needs to be told. We're on a hunt here."

* To support the Kearns Historical Society or share information regarding Camp Kearns, call Pam Todd, 801-347-3431.