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An exhibit at the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum.

An exhibit at the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum. (U.S. Army)

GREAT BEND, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — As one enters the new 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum, a large map on the left is hard to miss, with its banner asking, “Where in the World is the 10th Mountain Division?” Magnetic tags of units can be placed around the globe, following the most deployed division in the Army.

But for years, civilians and veterans have also asked, “Where in the world is the Fort Drum museum?”

Its new location strategically addresses that accessibility issue.

On Thursday, museum director Joseph E. “Sepp” Scanlin, said the museum’s former location on base became an issue especially after the attacks of 9/11, when military bases nationwide went on lockdown to the public with gates and fences installed.

“Then, it’s episodical that people come in,” Scanlin said. “That doesn’t only affect the general public. Veterans don’t necessarily have an ID card to get on base, particularly World War II veterans. So we were missing a huge part of our audience. And this happened across the Army.”

The previous location of the museum, South Riva Ridge Loop, was in the middle of the base. When eyeing a new location, building a facility wasn’t an option for the Army because of congressional limitations, Scanlin said. It was decided the former media ops site, Building 2509 Col. Reade Road, would be the new location. It’s just outside the base, off Route 26, with easy access from routes 3 and 11. The facility has also gained about 350 square feet of exhibit space.

“But the bigger change for us is the consolidation,” Scanlin said. “We gained a classroom. We have temporary exhibit space. And our library and research archives are much better and accessible now.”

The museum has had a soft opening for the past few weeks, with a grand opening scheduled for Saturday, June 21. But already, Scanlin has seen very encouraging signs that the new location is a hit.

“We’ve had people come off Route 3 coming back from ( Adirondack) skiing who knew the museum was here,” he said. “We’ve had veterans who visited who say it’s great and that they’d come in the past and couldn’t get on post.”

On April 20, the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce hosted its monthly Business After Hours networking event at the new facility, along with sponsors Northern New York Fort Drum AUSA and Advocate Drum. Maj. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., senior commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, welcomed the business community to the newly relocated museum.

“The museum is thoughtfully curated to show off the history of the Army, the local land and its people,” said chamber President and CEO Kayla S. Perry. “It’s beautifully laid out in an intuitive manner to promote exploration and engagement.”

The soft opening has also been valuable to staff, Scanlin said.

“Some of it is interpretation,” he said. “We think we’ve told the story, but it’s like, ‘Are the visitors getting what we’re hoping out of it?’ So, being able to talk to them and ask them has been good for us so we can do some fine tuning within the exhibits.”

The story at the museum begins eons ago with the Native American population. The first display is mainly the result of the work of Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources manager. Last year, she was among 15 civilian employees across the Army who were honored with a U.S. Army Installation Management Command Stalwart Award. She and her team identify and protect key archaeological sites at Fort Drum and manage the LeRay Mansion Historic District.

“We’re such a unique location and Dr. Rush has her own collection and doesn’t have a museum,” Scanlin said. “So, we took that opportunity to talk about some of the work that she does through her artifacts.”

Related display cases feature Native American points and knives. A “prismatic knife” is listed, “circa 11,000-13,500 years old.” There’s also scrapers, a drill and even a multipurpose tool circa “800 to 300 years ago.” Also displayed are three discoveries dug up from a fishing campsite along the Black River from about 5,000 years ago.

“I term it, the first warriors who occupied the land are the Native Americans,” Scanlin said. “So, why not tell their story, particularly, since one of the tribes, the Oneida Indian Nation, is also our first allies in the U.S. Army.”

During the Revolutionary War, Oneidas fought alongside colonizers in battles against the British.

“It’s important to tell that total story, and to get some profound artifacts on display,” Scanlin said.

The roots of the Army in the north country continue chronologically at the museum with the Army’s arrival in Sackets Harbor and the creation of Madison Barracks. In 1815, five companies of the Second Infantry Regiment arrived at Sackets Harbor to begin construction of the barracks. But the first military presence goes back to 1808, with the Sackets Harbor Navy station.

“We were there for some 130 years before we ever permanently moved out here,” Scanlin said. “There was overlap, obviously. We started training out here and camping out here, but we didn’t permanently move out here until the ‘40s.”

The Madison Barracks display, featuring a giant wall mural of an early plan for the facility, is topped with a flintlock musket, circa 1795. “We can exchange artifacts across the Army,” Scanlin said. “That had been collected by the Army in the past.”

The exhibit also features two rare uniform plates worn on the strap for the ammo pouches of War of 1812-era American soldiers.

“They are near and dear to us because those units participated in the Battle of Sackets Harbor,” Scanlin said.

“Buffalo Soldiers,” the nickname given to segregated units of African American troops formed after the Civil War ended in 1865, are also honored in the Madison Barracks display.

“They’re the ones who basically validated the land, from Madison Barracks to here,” Scanlin said. “They would march from the barracks to here and do summer encampments that would literally prove to the Army that this was valuable training land.”

Scanlin conferred with officials at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site for the display.

“The military presence that started in Sackets Harbor in 1808, through the War of 1812, and the long history of the Army’s Madison Barracks post, continues today,” said Constance B. Barone, manager of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site. “Fort Drum military personnel and support staff reside and recreate year-round in the Sackets Harbor vicinity, bringing the military past right up to the present.”

A 1904 Maxim machine gun helps to introduce the story at the museum of how Fort Drum developed. It was dug up out of a base training area decades ago.

“It was held for years by the Jefferson County Historical Society, but they didn’t have the capacity to put it on display, so they gifted it back to us and the shops here at Fort Drum restored it,” Scanlin said.

In 1906, a partnership between the U.S. Army at Madison Barracks and north country community leaders began looking for local training areas. The area in Felts Mills, immediately north of the Black River, was chosen. In 1907, the New York National Guard established a temporary tent encampment, which they called Camp Hughes, named for Charles E. Hughes, then-governor of New York. Soldiers would return annually to the area, known locally as “ Pine Plains.” In 1935, Pine Camp hosted the largest peacetime maneuvers held to that date when 36,000 regular and National Guardsmen from the 1st U.S. Army conducted division-sized field maneuvers.

The “35” maneuvers, Scanlin said, started the process for the Army in training itself to prepare for modern warfare, which would culminate with the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941.

“Everyone knows the Louisiana Maneuvers, but 35 really starts the process for the Army to train itself to prepare for the Second World War,” Scanlin said. “It all happens here. That really brings the long-term investment of the Army into the north country. The 35 maneuvers led to the acquisition of all the land to build Fort Drum today.”

With the addition of that land for the base, communities — the “lost villages” — were erased.

“We told the lost villages story in a small way in the old museum,” Scanlin said. “We expanded it significantly.”

To make room for the expanded base, 525 families packed up and moved. Three-thousand buildings, including churches, post offices and 24 schools, were abandoned. Exhibit photos document life in the lost villages, including one of a moving truck at the doors of a home.

An exhibit at the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum.

An exhibit at the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum. (U.S. Army)

A key decade

The division was constituted in 1943, then known as the 10th Light Division. Its soldiers volunteered for the division. Early recruits needed three letters of recommendation and some type of “outdoors” experience or knowledge. Fifteen-thousand men applied, but only 8,000 were accepted. It was redesignated the 10th Mountain Division on Nov. 6, 1944, and was deployed to the Italian theater under the command of Maj. Gen. George P. Hays soon after.

At the exhibit’s World War II story, Scanlin paused at a Western Union telegram display and a copy of a letter from 1st Lt. Lee L. Snyder to Rubye Bodey, of Columbus, Ga. It’s about the death of her son, Cpl. James Harwell, and dated May 6, 1945, from Northern Italy.

“James had enviable ability to make friends with everyone,” Lt. Snyder wrote. “Believe me, his cheerfulness lightened the strain on all of us during some of the most trying times.”

Lt. Snyder then explains how Cpl. Harwell lost his life in an amphibious operation. He concluded, “If I may be of any assistance to you in supplying any more information, please write me and I will feel honored to help you.”

The letter, Scanlin said, is symbolic and educational.

“To me, it symbolizes the cost of war,” he said. “It’s the next to last day when the war ends in Italy. And more important, this is something that lieutenants should be prepared to do today. It allows us to talk to young officers, like, ‘You may be asked to write a letter like this.’ It’s something to think about and process. It’s a dual process: to memorialize and to train.”

Near the letter is a snapshot of division soldiers clowning around, in costume.

“The division liberated Mussolini’s last residence on Lake Garda,” Scanlin said. “They clowned around in his closet.” Insignias from a Mussolini uniform are also displayed.

The museum’s World War II story also includes POWs who were housed on base; first Italians and then Germans.

“Literally, the same month the Italians start arriving, they surrender and swap sides,” Scanlin said. The Italian troops were trained in various skills to be “brought back into Democracy.”

“It was kind of to de-program their Fascist beliefs of the Mussolini era,” Scanlin said.

One display features well-known veterans of the division.

“We generated a host of interesting people who were influential in a lot of different fields,” Scanlin said. “It’s a training tool for us to talk to soldiers today. Just because you take off the uniform doesn’t mean you quit living Army values and we don’t have expectations for you.”

The reactivation

The modern 10th Mountain Division was reactivated in 1985 as one of the U.S. Army’s new “light infantry” divisions under the command of Brig. Gen. William S. Carpenter. The exhibit about the expansion reflects the unique way it was approached at Fort Drum, with an emphasis on an association with the civilian community, and “starting from scratch.”“This was a huge boon for the Department of Defense,” Scanlin said. “Everyone was sent here to study the building of Fort Drum, to do things smarter. We built in conjunction with the community as opposed to seeing ourselves as something separate. That’s an important story we want to keep telling.”

From the expansion, the division’s timeline grew impressively, all reflected in exhibits: Operation Desert Shield/Storm; Hurricane Andrew relief, and other storm responses, including the 1998 north country ice storm; Operation Restore Hope in Somalia; Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti; various peacekeeping operations and war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

‘Value of partnership’

A poignant artifact in the Restore Hope exhibit is a piece of wreckage from one of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters shot down at the Battle of Mogadishu in October 1993. Eighteen Americans were killed and 73 were wounded in the battle.

“Our ability to borrow that from one of our peers, at the Airborne and Special Ops Museum, shows the value of partnership,” Scanlin said.

Scanlin is left only to imagine artifacts to arrive from more recent deployments.

“It’s a reality in the history field,” he said. “I’d call it a time-delay thing. Most of the material in Afghanistan and Iraq is too new. The material hasn’t come forward yet. It’s still important to the individual soldiers in telling their own stories and they’re not willing to let it go. That’s OK. We’re not looking to raid persons’ closets. It takes a while for people to process their own experiences to understand this historical significance, and then to offer it to us for display.”

A new exhibit addresses a “miss” of the previous museum, Scanlin said. “One of the misses in the old museum is that we didn’t talk much about women’s history, although there’s a deep history of that in the Army.”

A canvas for illustrator

Jeff M. Fox, illustrator at Fort Drum’s Public Works Signs and Graphics Shop, worked alongside Scanlin to physically create the exhibits, as they, and others, also put finishing touches on ones being installed. Fox said it was magical as he made graphics and displays based on Scanlin’s descriptions, and then saw the artifacts arrive. He was especially impressed with the Native American artifacts.

“When it came to this one, reading through the information on them, I couldn’t wait to come out and see what the actual artifacts were,” Fox said. “I had no idea.”

On Thursday, the World War II section had pieces of paper taped to the wall, with exhibit items to go in the spots.

“I take all his information, put a design together, with his approval,” Fox said of his cooperation with Scanlin. “He hasn’t turned anything down. We work really well together.”

Fox also believes the new museum location will benefit the public.

“It’s excellent for the community,” he said. “There’s so many people I talked to that have access to Fort Drum, but they don’t want to go through the hassle of getting visitors passes and everything for their wives and family. Here, you don’t need any passes and anybody can walk in. It’s so much easier for the public. You don’t have to get a sponsor to get on the installation.”

Medal of Honor wall

A wall at the end of a walk-through at the museum features photos and information on four Medal of Honor recipients related to the division.

Lt. Gen. George P. Hays was a young artillery officer during the Second Battle of the Marne in World War I. He received the medal in 1919. During World War II, he commanded the 10th Mountain Division in the last few months of the Italian campaign.

Pfc. John D. Magrath died in heavy fighting in Italy on April 14, 1945, after single-handedly wiping out three German machine gun nests, two of them while wielding a machine gun seized from the enemy. He posthumously was awarded the medal in 1947.

Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins was awarded the medal posthumously in 2019 for conspicuous gallantry for his actions on June 1, 2007, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Staff Sgt. Jared C. Monti was awarded the medal posthumously in 2009 in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on June 21, 2006. He was mortally wounded and sacrificed his own life in an effort to save a fellow soldier.

Capt. William Swenson was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 for his bravery during combat in Afghanistan. During a seven-hour battle in the Ganjgal Ghar valley on Sept. 8, 2009, Capt. Swenson is credited with coordinating a response to a massive enemy ambush and leading multiple runs to recover wounded and killed soldiers.

Scheduled to be installed adjacent to that wall of Medal of Honor heroes is information about memorials and monuments off base. — The museum, at Building 2509 Col. Reade Road, Fort Drum, is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Closed on federal holidays.

(c)2022 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

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