National Guard July 2012 : Page 32

G UARD R OOTS : T HE F IRST M USEUM Deerin’s Dream By Anne Armstrong The original museum at NGAUS headquarters fulfilled the vision of an official who 40 years ago saw a gap in efforts to tell the Guard story HE VEST WORN by a militia commander when a bullet cut him down at the Battle of Bunker Hill and a piece of a tree that once shaded George Washington were two of the early arti-facts displayed in the first museum housed at the NGAUS headquarters. And when the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., dedicates a gallery later this year to the Guard’s performance at home and abroad since the Sept. 11 attacks (Educational Foundation News, page 46) , it will be continuing the vision of a man who four decades ago T | saw the need for a museum telling the history of the entire National Guard. The 9/11 Era Gallery will honor the efforts of the men and women who have fought and died overseas in the last decade, as well as their work to secure the homeland against outside threats and Mother Nature’s fury. It will describe a Guard quite different from the one that existed before Ameri-ca was attacked on a sunny autumn morning 11 years ago. But this exhibit is possible, in large part, because of the effort it took to open the first Guard museum in the na-tion’s capital. The National Guard Heritage Gallery, as it was called, was the vision of retired Col. James Deerin, the associa-tion’s executive vice president, who first proposed the idea for a museum dedicated to the Guard’s history in 1972. Three years later, the NGAUS executive council, as the association’s governing board was known at the time, ap-proved construction of the museum inside the National Guard Memorial. It also agreed to create the tax-exempt Historical Society of the Militia and National Guard, the 32 Na tional Guard

Deerin’s Dream

Anne Armstrong

The original museum at NGAUS headquarters fulfilled the vision of an official who 40 years ago saw a gap in efforts to tell the Guard story<br /> <br /> THE VEST WORN by a militia commander when a bullet cut him down at the Battle of Bunker Hill and a piece of a tree that once shaded George Washington were two of the early artifacts displayed in the first museum housed at the NGAUS headquarters.<br /> <br /> And when the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., dedicates a gallery later this year to the Guard’s performance at home and abroad since the Sept. 11 attacks (Educational Foundation News, page 46), it will be continuing the vision of a man who four decades ago saw the need for a museum telling the history of the entire National Guard.<br /> <br /> The 9/11 Era Gallery will honor the efforts of the men and women who have fought and died overseas in the last decade, as well as their work to secure the homeland against outside threats and Mother Nature’s fury. It will describe a Guard quite different from the one that existed before America was attacked on a sunny autumn morning 11 years ago.<br /> <br /> But this exhibit is possible, in large part, because of the effort it took to open the first Guard museum in the nation’s capital.<br /> <br /> The National Guard Heritage Gallery, as it was called, was the vision of retired Col. James Deerin, the association’s executive vice president, who first proposed the idea for a museum dedicated to the Guard’s history in 1972.<br /> <br /> Three years later, the NGAUS executive council, as the association’s governing board was known at the time, approved construction of the museum inside the National Guard Memorial. It also agreed to create the tax-exempt Historical Society of the Militia and National Guard, the forerunner to the National Guard Educational Foundation (NGEF), to raise money for the gallery and other educational programs.<br /> <br /> All of the $508,604 needed to construct the gallery came from individuals, Guard units and state Guard associations, which did all they could to reach their particular goals. The National Guard Association of Illinois, for example, held a raffle and donated the proceeds to the museum fund.<br /> <br /> To stock the museum, Deerin, a former newspaper reporter and New Jersey Army Guard officer, scoured the attics and basement of homes and office buildings in the original 13 colonies to amass a wonderful collection of artifacts linked to Guard history. He solicited artifacts from members and tracked down leads.<br /> <br /> GREETINGS FROM WASHINGTON <br /> <br /> Deerin’s scavenger hunt through New England uncovered, among other items, a Hessian grenadier’s cap, the vest Dr. Joseph Warren was wearing when he was killed at Bunker Hill in 1775 and a smoothbore “Brown Bess” fowling gun like those carried by British soldiers.<br /> <br /> In a hand-written order dated April 20, 1775, Capt. Edward Knight tells Cpl. James Briggs to inform other soldiers of 3rd Company to report on April 21, 1775.<br /> <br /> Dioramas depicted pivotal battles, including a detailed recreation of the Battle of Bunker Hill and one showing cannon movement from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston under the command of Henry Knox, a citizen-soldier.<br /> <br /> A life-sized figure of Maj. George Washington as he looked when he commanded the Virginia Militia greeted visitors, and the collection included a piece of the trunk of an elm tree under which Washington is said to have stood when he took command of the colonies’ troops as general on July 3, 1775.<br /> <br /> The Civil War era was represented by the 36-star flag carried by A Company, 1st Cavalry, of the Delaware Militia.<br /> <br /> Deerin didn’t stop there. A beautifully arranged series of airplane models represented the inventory for both the Air Guard and Army Guard.<br /> <br /> And he contracted with a wood carver and former New Jersey Guardsman, Jerre Van Vliet, to fashion figures representing the Guard of the then 53 states and territories. Each figure was depicted in the uniform typical at the time each state or territory became federally recognized.<br /> <br /> When the Heritage Gallery opened July 1, 1976, the country was celebrating its 200th birthday, but the Guard was nearing its 340th.<br /> <br /> Maj. Gen. Duane L. Corning, the NGAUS president, said the gallery was dedicated “to the Guardsmen who have served and who will serve their communities, their states and their country.” <br /> <br /> He also noted the herculean efforts of Deerin, who was the museum curator after retiring from his NGAUS role, saying, “He, more than any other individual, created what you see around you today—an impressive and beautiful tribute to this nation’s oldest institution, the National Guard.” <br /> <br /> During its first year of operation, the 2,000-squarefoot museum had 5,159 visitors, more than half of them National Guardsmen and their families. They came from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and 32 foreign countries, including Warsaw Pact nations and the fledgling African nation of Ghana.<br /> <br /> The Heritage Gallery also won some very high praise. An official from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., described the Heritage Gallery as “a dandy little Jewel box of a museum.” <br /> <br /> And it fulfilled Deerin’s vision to complete the first museum dedicated to the proud history of the entire National Guard.<br /> <br /> Many states operate museums that tell the Guard story from their state’s perspective, but only the one at the National Guard Memorial reaches across nearly four centuries, 54 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia to tell the full story of America’s community-based force.<br /> <br /> When Vice President Dan Quayle helped dedicate the new memorial building in September 1991, it included a Medal of Honor Gallery and a few exhibits. Construction plans for a larger museum were put on hold until enough funds could be raised to build a world-class facility.<br /> <br /> Finally, in 2003, the museum as it is now exists opened, operated by the NGEF.<br /> <br /> The National Guard Memorial Mmuseum covers 5,600 square feet on the lower level of the National Guard Memorial. It expands on what the original Heritage Gallery offered to provide a fuller telling of the role of the Guard, proving, that the history of the Guard is the history of America.<br /> <br /> For example, the gas mask carried in France by Pvt.<br /> <br /> Thomas Reno of the Pennsylvania Guard during World War I is displayed just steps from the coat worn by Brig. Gen. George C. Marshall while the future Army chief of staff during World War II was training the Illinois National Guard from 1934 to 1936.<br /> <br /> And a frock coat worn during the Civil War by a soldier with the 44th Massachusetts is around the corner from a helmet worn during World War II by a soldier with the Guard’s 29th Infantry Division from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.<br /> <br /> Museum visitors who think the Guard didn’t participate in the war in Vietnam learn a different story. One of the most-decorated units to serve in that war was the 151st Infantry, a band of Rangers from the Indiana National Guard. A uniform worn by one of those brave and capable men is part of that war’s display.<br /> <br /> Operation Desert Storm required a call-up of thousands of Guardsmen. One of them was Rep. James Gibbons of Nevada who donated his flight suit for display.<br /> <br /> FOUR-STAR DISPLAY <br /> <br /> The museum tells more than war stories, however. A panel explains the Dick Act, named for Rep. Charles Dick of Ohio. His legislation codified the role of the Guard and the name National Guard.<br /> <br /> The Guard’s role in the Berlin crisis and the civil rights efforts of the 1960s are addressed.<br /> <br /> And on display are the wings and the Apollo 9 patch donated by astronaut Capt. Russell Schweickart, one of four Air Guardsmen who have served America as astronauts.<br /> <br /> No doubt, Deerin would be pleased with how his Heritage Gallery has evolved.<br /> <br /> And he would probably be just as pleased with what is planned for the 9/11 Era Gallery.<br /> <br /> It’s likely the most talked-about item in the new gallery will be the Memorial Wall that will hold the names of more than 700 Guardsmen who have died in the line of duty in the war on terrorism.<br /> <br /> Representing the heightened recognition the Guard has earned through its service and sacrifice since that sad day in September 2001, a display case near the Memorial Wall will hold the uniform of Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the first fourstar chief of the National Guard Bureau and the first Guard chief to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.<br /> <br /> Deerin’s vision 40 years ago was of a museum that told the Guard’s history. As that history continues to be written, the museum must and will grow and evolve to represent it.<br /> <br /> Anne Armstrong is deputy director of the National Guard Educational Foundation. She can be reached at 202-408-5890 or at anne.armstrong@ngaus.org.

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