Remembrance.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have my grandfathers play a significant role on my life. Both veterans of the Second World War, I listened to their stories of their time in the service… although truthfully, they both suffered for years afterward from the horrors of what they witnessed in the war, and I only learned later of the true sacrifices they made for their country. My maternal grandfather was in the U.S. Army in the European theater, fighting against the evil that was Nazi Germany. My paternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific, supporting US Marine Corps soldiers in their battle across the Pacific against the Japanese Empire. With such a strong influence from them, it should come as no surprise that so many of the destinations of this blog have involved military museums, especially ones involving WWII. This Saturday, I found my way to a new destination, a small museum that was filled with countless artifacts from this conflict.

Located in Natick, Massachusetts, the International Museum of World War II was established in 1999. Originally a private collection owned by a local individual, the museum has since become an invaluable repository of knowledge about this war. A space of only 10,000 square feet houses vehicles, weapons, artifacts, original documents, and displays focusing on the United States of America, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Upon arrival, you pass through a metal detector and then the staff ask you to fill out a waiver – unlike most museums, you are able to pick up and handle many of the items on display, although there is a (small) chance of injury from handling such old equipment, so the waiver is required if you wish to enter. From there, you are transported into the 1940s, and the horrors of the war. With Veterans Day falling next week, I thought it would be appropriate to pay this museum a visit.

Photography is permitted, with one major exception. The museum requests that you not take photographs of items bearing Nazi insignias. As one of the docents shared with me, Neo-Nazis had recently come to the museum, taken numerous photographs, and posted the images to social media in order to glorify the Third Reich. Horrified that the collection was being used to honor the evil actions of Hitler’s Germany, the staff requests visitors to avoid sharing images of certain items. Although it is strictly by the honor system, I certainly complied. Among the objects I saw in this section were original Waffen-SS uniforms and flags, personal effects of Adolf Hitler including his tea cups and personal mirror, Eva Braun’s china, personal correspondence between Hitler and his generals, the chair from his cell in Landsberg Prison where Hitler was incarcerated for a year after a failed coup in 1923, and most grim, a strip of fabric from the sofa where Braun and Hitler committed suicide in 1945.

Map of the International Museum of World War II.
Located about 20 miles west of Boston, the International Museum of World War II is located in Natick, MA.
Small howitzer in front of the museum.
Located on a side street and surrounded by office buildings and shopping plazas, the museum is the only building with its own artillery on the front lawn.
Ian Fleming's portable typewriter and its traveling case.
One of the first items you see upon entry? Ian Fleming’s portable typewriter. Mr. Fleming is best known for creating one of the most recognizable characters of the 20th century: James Bond.
Casablanca exhibit of wall posters and display cases.
A special exhibit honoring the 75th anniversary of the battle of Casablanca, the first step for the British and American liberation of North Africa from the Axis. The movie Casablanca, released at the end of November 1942, is also noted in this exhibit. The chair is from the set of “Rick’s Cafe Americain,” the nightclub run by Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart).
Volkswagen Kubelwagen on display.
The Volkswagen Kubelwagen, Germany’s “jeep” during the Second World War, used primarily to transport soldiers and deliver light equipment. This vehicle is based on the Volkswagen Beetle, a car that was originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche during the 1930s under direct orders from Adolf Hitler, who wanted to create a “people’s car” that would be available to all citizens of Nazi Germany.
A row of 6 Enigma machines.
The museum has 6 Enigma machines. These devices were code machines, used to send secret messages throughout the German war machine. British and Americans worked tirelessly to break the Enigma codes. The Allied codebreakers’ success was a key factor in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Exhibit on the Holocaust, including prisoners uniforms.
The depravity of Nazi Germany reached its deepest depths in the Holocaust, the systematic slaughter of over 6 million Jews, as well as others deemed undesirable, such as homosexuals and the disabled. The uniforms and wooden shoes here are not reproductions.
Demolition charges and equipment.
German soldiers were ordered to place demolition charges such as these around Paris to destroy it completely upon their retreat in 1944. Fortunately, the order was never carried out.
Air map table and mannequins of pilots in uniform.
The Battle of Britain, when outnumbered and overworked British pilots fought day and night against an onslaught of German air attacks. The table you see here was used by the Royal Air Force command center to direct their pilots to intercept the attacking planes.
Allied soldiers uniforms, displayed on mannequins.
A display of the uniforms of allied soldiers who participated in the D-Day attacks to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany.
WWII parachute.
Hours before the D-Day beach landings in Normandy, 13,000 American soldiers were dropped by airplanes behind enemy lines, parachutes such as this one carrying them to their landing zones.
M4 Sherman tank, with mannequin dressed as tank commander in front of it.
They even managed to cram an M4 Sherman tank into the small museum. Impressive!
Frontal view of M4 Sherman tank.
This U.S. tank was used in the North Africa campaign, was heavily damaged, sent back to the U.S., and was converted into a flame thrower tank for use against planned invasion of Japan.
Binoculars from the USS Arizona.
Binoculars from the U.S.S. Arizona, sunk on December 7, 1941 with the loss of 1,177 officers and crew.
Cockpit equipment from U.S. bombers and fighters.
Equipment from various U.S. bombers and fighters. The exhibit was overseen by a 95-year old veteran who flew B-17 bomber missions against Germany in the war. Speaking with him was a privilege.
Wooden chess set and board.
Handmade wooden chess set, crafted by American soldiers who were held captive by the Japanese.
Chair from the Reich Chancellery.
A chair from Hitler’s office in the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. The mannequin to the right, dressed as a U.S. soldier, has a flame thrower on his left. Seems an appropriate way to guard such a heinous object.
Japanese flag signed by captain and crew of a submarine, with the word "victory" in Japanese in the middle.
This flag, from a Japanese submarine, is signed by the captain and crew. They wrote the word “Victory” in the middle of the flag. This is done to wish good luck before battle.
Large Japanese flag hanging on a wall.
This Japanese flag is from the battleship Nagato. This vessel was the flagship of the Japanese fleet until the commissioning of the far larger Yamato in 1942. The Nagato was one of the few Japanese battleships to survive the war.
Articles of surrender for Japan.
One of only 20 known copies of the “Instrument of Surrender,” the document that Japan signed to conclude World War II after its defeat at the hands of the United States.
2012 Honda Accord parked in front of museum.
This small museum will soon be growing – the museum has purchased the adjacent property and a new, far larger building will be opening in 2019.

The International Museum of World War II is a fantastic, but little-known, gem in Massachusetts. Entrance is $25 for adults, $20 for senior citizens, $15 for children under 18, and World War II veterans can enter for free. The museum is open for walk-in visits on Friday and Saturday from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. Although open on Wednesday and Thursday, you must call ahead on those days to schedule a visit. If you are in New England and are interested in this fascinating, if horrific, period of world history, this museum is a must-see location. Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

 

4 thoughts on “Remembrance.

  1. Very fascinating stuff, I would like to check out those exhibits someday. My grandfather was a veteran of the Korean War but I was only 8 years old when he passed so I didn’t get a chance to get many stories of his services in the Armed Forces. How old were you when your grandparents passed away? I like that set of binoculars, and I’m fascinated by the ‘code machine.’ I wonder what the coded messages were like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tyson. My grandfathers passed when I was 11 and 13, but they both lived close by so I got to spend a lot of time with them.

      There are a couple of good write-ups on how Enigma worked- I’ll IM one to you. It really is fascinating to see it in action.

      Like

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