FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: 1LT Jarrett Feldman, Curator
National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey
PO Box 277
Sea Girt, NJ 08750-0277
The National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey (NGMMNJ) at Sea Girt is pleased to announce its “New Jersey in World War II” exhibit, inspired by the Ken Burns documentary series “The War.” In conjunction with the screening of the series, the museum has partnered with New Jersey Network (NJN) by sharing some of its trove of oral history interviews. NJN has posted excerpts from the interviews of three World War II veterans, which may be viewed at http://www.njn.net/television/specials/war/oralhistories/. The NGMMNJ’s oral history program is affiliated with the Library of Congress and has holdings of over 300 interviews with war veterans from WWII to the present. Summaries of many of these interviews are available on-line at http://www.state.nj.us/military/museum/oralhistory.html
The museum’s exhibit commemorating New Jerseyans at war includes an “Arts and Letters of War” display featuring the work of Newark Evening News war correspondent Warren Kennet, “Newark’s Ernie Pyle,” and the first journalist ashore at Normandy; William Foley, formerly of Edgewater, whose wartime sketches as a rifleman in the 94th Division led to a postwar career as a professional artist, and combat photographer Albert Meserlin, formerly of East Orange, who spent the final months of the war as General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal photographer, a position that gained him a ringside seat at the German surrender in May, 1945.
The exhibit also relates the story of Sergeant Curtis Culin of Cranford. Culin’s idea of attaching steel prongs to tanks to cut through dense Norman hedgerows, a creation dubbed the “Rhino Plow,” materially aided the American breakout from Normandy and gained an accolade for “Yankee ingenuity” from General Eisenhower.
The display also highlights the wartime history of Sergeant Culin’s outfit, the 102nd Cavalry, New Jersey National Guard, which landed at Normandy on D-Day plus two, was the first American unit into Paris, and ended the war in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, as well as the story of the 44th Division, proclaimed “New Jersey’s Own” (with a little New York help) in the pre-war National Guard. The 44th fought its way from France into Austria and captured the famed Wernher Von Braun of V-2 rocket fame. In the postwar years Von Braun became the father of the American ballistic missile system and moon exploration program.
New Jersey’s home front is evoked with images of scrap drives in Asbury Park, the South Amboy Red Cross Women’s Motor Corps and the New Jersey State Guard, which replaced the National Guard when it was called to active duty. Artifacts on display include souvenirs brought back by New Jerseyans from the front, including rare items like a Japanese winter uniform worn on Attu and Kiska islands, a German paratrooper’s camouflage smock, an Afrika Corps pith helmet and a rare Sturmgewehr 44, the world’s first “assault rifle.”
The exhibit is part of an ongoing museum series on the role of the Militia and National Guard in the larger history of New Jersey, which will include permanent and topical temporary exhibits. In addition to its exhibits, the museum serves as a source of information on New Jersey’s military history for public and scholarly research.
Museum admission is free, although donations are appreciated. Admission to the Training Center requires a photo ID for adults.
Volunteer armies of women served military, with a smile
Allen (Ohio) County Museum archive photo
On a railroad platform in Lima, Ohio, an act of kindness began in 1942 and lasted for nearly 30 years.
The women of the town formed a spontaneous "canteen" to feed hundreds of thousands of servicemembers passing through on their way to World War II. The canteen continued through the Korean and into the Vietnam wars, making it the longest-running such effort in the nation.
Allen (Ohio) County Museum archive photo
Lima's white canteen building was sold for $1 and moved to a field where today it is used for storage.
"From morning to dark, the women of our town had the station covered," recalls Marie Barclay Allen, 85, who helped with the canteen during World War II. "Sometimes the trains stopped for just five minutes, but we were there."
On Thursday, the city of Lima, with a population today of nearly 40,000, reunited many of the surviving canteen volunteers and dedicated a plaque honoring the more than 10,000 women who kept the canteen going for nearly three decades.
The dedication is part of a trend to find ways to memorialize those who served in World War II, both at home and on the battlefields in Europe and the Pacific.
A timely tribute to World War II
Ken Burns' current PBS documentary series, The War, has highlighted a renewed interest in capturing the stories of World War II as that generation ages. World War II produced 3 million veterans, and they are dying at a rate of about 1,000 per day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The war left a voluminous record of letters, films, even oral histories. But the legacy of physical places — memorials, historical sites, even plaques — is scarce. In a war fought overseas, few places exist for history buffs, tourists and participants to visit and remember.
"Monuments were out of favor after World War II," says Army 1st Lt. Jarrett Feldman, a historian and curator of the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey.
Unlike the Revolutionary War and Civil War, World War II left no battlefields to preserve in the USA. And the nation's industrial might, which helped to win the war, consisted mostly of private factories that were converted back to peaceful uses after the war ended.
The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., didn't open until in 2004, nearly six decades after the war ended and 22 years after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened.
Today, many small towns and cities are trying to create places to memorialize the sacrifices of World War II:
•The National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey, in Sea Girt, recently added a permanent exhibit on World War II to its timeline on New Jersey militia and National Guard units. Last week, the museum added a mannequin dressed in World War II field gear. "This is a good visual way to let people know what it was like to be in that war," Feldman says.
•In Ohio, Lima will become the state's third city to honor World War II canteens. Nationwide, about 125 communities had canteens. Some were run by the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations (USO). Others — such as the one in Lima — were spontaneous efforts by local women.
•In North Platte, Neb., two statues of World War II soldiers soon will be added to complete a large 20th Century Veterans Memorial at Iron Horse Park. The veterans of the century's other wars are already represented.
The 'food was really secondary'
"This is a story that needs to be told," says historian Scott Trostel, author of Angels at the Station, a book about the nation's troop canteens. "This isn't a story about blood. It's a story about meeting a stranger with love and a warm greeting. Food was really secondary, even though it was the official purpose of the canteen."
The women of the canteens served the servicemembers chicken sandwiches, cookies, apples, cigarettes and other hard-to-come-by treats in a time of rationing. Women made the meals in their home kitchens. Trostel estimates there were 9,600 home cooks involved in the Lima canteen and 600 more volunteers at the station to serve food during its 28-year run.
The trains would stop for the servicemembers to get food, sometimes for just a few minutes, before moving on.
The canteen ended in 1970 when the number of troops traveling by train had dwindled. Canteen volunteer Allen says that, as times changed, the neighborhood near the railroad station became dangerous, so volunteers felt less safe.
After it closed, the white canteen building was sold for $1 to a local farmer, Trostel says. The one-room building was taken apart and reassembled in a farm field, where it's used for storage today. The site of the canteen is now a vacant lot.