Questions about WWII? These vets can answer them

Rifles and mess kits are among World war II memorabilia on display at Veterans Museum in Media.
Rifles and mess kits are among World war II memorabilia on display at Veterans Museum in Media.
Posted: August 24, 2010

Behind the stone walls of the old Media Armory in Delaware County, you can get a fresh cut of Angus beef at Trader Joe's upstairs and a free slice of history at the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum in the basement.

The museum, celebrating its five-year anniversary this Veterans Day, is easy to miss, but it's packed with World War II memorabilia and multimedia exhibits.

And stories. Lots of stories.

Want to know what it's like to survive a Japanese kamikaze attack? Stop at a touchscreen kiosk and local Navy veteran Ed Buffman will tell you about April 11, 1945, in a slick mini-documentary of his service aboard the USS Missouri.

"We were hit by a Japanese kamikaze coming in low," Buffman says, as the screen shows a photo of an A6M "Zero" fighter plane about to strike his ship. "That kamikaze came in on the starboard side. When it hit, the Japanese pilot was cut in half and rolled out onto the deck of the Missouri."

Ever been locked in the hull of a ship while taking enemy fire? Bud Hendrick has. Tap the screen and he'll describe running the USS Pasadena's throttle board, and witnessing the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay a few hundred yards away.

"The engineering department is down about two decks below the waterline," Hendrick says. "The first time I went down there in general quarters - that's when you're under fire - and they closed the hatches down and there's no way out, that was scary."

Arthur Burn, vice chairman of the museum's board, said the museum's mission isn't to glorify U.S. wars, but to "personalize" them.

"The people that served in these wars were just ordinary people," said Burn, a Chichester High grad and Vietnam veteran who joined the Marines when he was 17. "They were everyday people. Some had office jobs; some were factory workers, and they just went and did, in some cases, extraordinary things."

The museum is focused heavily on World War II, but also includes sections on World War I, the Korean War and women in the military. A Vietnam section is planned for next year.

Besides video kiosks, life-size dioramas and model ships and planes, the museum has an impressive collection of authentic Allied and Axis equipment and memorabilia.

Everything from submachine guns and grenades to jamming transmitters and field surgery kits. There are newspaper front pages from the Reading Times to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, their banner headlines announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor and invasion of Normandy. Most of it was donated to the museum by veterans and their families.

"People come in and realize they have something they should show people rather than it sitting in a closet," said Gladys Martin, a museum guide and Navy veteran who routed mail to U.S. ships during World War II.

State Rep. Nick Miccarelli, R-Delaware, an Iraq war veteran who sits on the museum's board, said the museum is "the most underutilized resource in our area."

"It's incredible that in this day and age there are not more people going," Miccarelli said. "Especially with the World War II veteran population aging, it's important to hear what happened and how they basically saved the world from tyranny.

"It bothers me sometimes," he said. "You see Hollywood celebrities that are practically worshiped, and veterans that are not getting their just due for what they've done for the country."

The museum, which runs on government grants and private contributions, produces documentaries on DVD, develops school curricula and offers a course on American veterans for college credits. Group tours are available.

For war buffs, it's an opportunity to dig deeper than the history books. Local veterans volunteer at the museum and are usually on the premises to answer questions. If you have a question they can't answer, chances are they know someone who can.

"You have the folks that have actually been there. It's a phenomenal resource," said Stephen Miller, an F-16 pilot and Iraq war veteran who chairs the museum's board. "You watch stuff on the History Channel and you come up with questions. Well, you can ask these guys the questions."

comments powered by Disqus