New 2nd Infantry Division museum celebrates Army’s history on Korean Peninsula
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 7, 2019
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — A handmade flag partly colored with blood and used to memorialize prisoners of war. A 2nd Infantry Division insignia that was carried to the moon. The helmet worn by a highly decorated general in the Korean War.
Those are just a few of the treasures on display at the new 2nd Infantry Division museum, which officially opens Monday on Camp Humphreys after moving from its longtime home at Camp Red Cloud.
The museum — which is in the building that formerly housed the commissary in the older part of the Army garrison — has expanded its mandate to include the Eighth Army and the Korean theater of operations overall, in addition to the 2nd ID.
“The history of the United States Army, just like the history of our country is part of our fabric and our being,” said the museum’s director, retired Col. Michael Alexander. “How can we be good soldiers, civilians, airmen, Marines, sailors and Coast Guard unless we know where we came from?”
The Camp Humphreys opening will mark the latest incarnation of the museum, which first began in the early 1970s in a Quonset hut on Camp Casey, near the border with North Korea.
The 2nd Infantry Division, which marked its centennial in 2017, then moved it to a former officers’ club at Camp Red Cloud in the city of Uijeongbu, which was home to the real-life unit that inspired the popular TV show “M.A.S.H.”
The latest site follows the relocation of the division’s headquarters last year along with the other main commands to an expanded Camp Humphreys in the rural area of Pyeongtaek, about 55 miles south of Seoul.
The inclusion of the Eighth Army, which celebrates its 75th anniversary on Monday, and other units on the Korean Peninsula reflects the consolidation of the U.S. military’s footprint after decades of being scattered on multiple bases on the divided peninsula.
Alexander, who also conducts educational tours of former battlegrounds and other outreach programs, said that he has had to be creative in arranging the displays since many of the 2,000 artifacts remain in storage in an annex as well as a separate library and rooms for collections, archives and decommissioned weaponry.
“There’s a lot that’s not on display right now,” he said Wednesday in an interview in his office, a former refrigerator room.
“I took everything I could, at least parts of it, and told the division story from 1917 up to the present. I also had some Eighth Army artifacts that I sprinkled through there,” he added. “As we incrementally build the new displays and galleries, we’ll add more in.”
Blueprints show a phased construction plan to develop galleries with the Eighth Army at the center, with a total estimated cost of about $2.4 million that will come from the commands and the U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Meanwhile, the realistic dioramas showing battles and other scenarios with life-size mannequins that populated the previous museum have been reduced in scope, including soldiers in trenches and a medic shown treating a wounded Korean woman in a traditional house.
Poster boards and photos range from depictions of the trench warfare from the two world wars to the decisive 1951 battle at Chipyong-ni, which Alexander calls the “Gettysburg of the Korean War.”
The new facility also does not yet fully meet Army regulations for museums in terms of lighting and other issues, although the main display floor fulfills the requirements for less than 50 percent humidity and a temperature of 68 degrees, Alexander said, pointing to the thermometer in his office as proof.
“We still have one-fourth of the building that’s not climate controlled as required, but we’ve mitigated that with fans and also portable air conditioning units,” he said. “It’s still a work in progress.”
The exhibits are largely arranged in chronological order featuring World War I, World War II, the Korean War, deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and current operations.
However, blueprints show the plan is to develop more galleries and other features with the Eighth Army’s history at the center and the 2nd ID and other subordinate commands around it.
Highlights include the flag used by Sgt. Robert Hopkins, an enlisted chaplain who was captured in the Battle of the Bulge, to bury more than 300 fellow prisoners of war and to record the names of those who died in captivity. He donated the flag and a Bible, which are encased in glass, to the museum in 1979.
Another prized display is from astronaut Michael Collins, who carried the division’s Indianhead patch that had belonged to his father on the Apollo 11 lunar mission.
Alexander also proudly points to the helmet worn by Gen. James Van Fleet, who assumed command of the Eighth Army during the Korean War as part of a shuffle following the controversial dismissal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Former President Harry Truman later called Van Fleet “the greatest general we have ever had.”
A Medal of Honor that was awarded to Sgt. 1st Class William Sitman during the Korean War also hangs in the museum.
While he misses the former setup, Alexander said the new facility has several advantages.
“We have more space, and of course we have a larger audience,” he said. “It’s also centrally located.”
The museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
Retired Col. Michael Alexander, historian and curator of the new 2nd Infantry Division/Eighth Army/Korean Theater of Operations museum at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, explains a display about the Collins family Wednesday, June 5, 2019. The family includes Michael Collins, who took his father's Indianhead patch to the moon.
KIM GAMEL/STARS AND STRIPES