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N.H. museum salutes WWII generation

A 1940s era kitchen at the Wolfeboro, N.H., Wright Museum. A 1940s era kitchen at the Wolfeboro, N.H., Wright Museum. (JOHN HESSION FOR THE WRIGHT MUSEUM)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / June 22, 2008

WOLFEBORO, N.H. - Step through the door and a transitional period in the nation's history is illustrated with vehicles. A sleek, stylish 1941 Ford Explorer is parked next to a 1942 Ford military Jeep, both high-production models. What a difference a year makes when a country goes to war.

The Wright Museum showcases American life from 1939 to 1945, the duration of World War II. With more than guns and ammo, it highlights the "Greatest Generation" on the home front and on battlefields in Europe.

This was a time when Frank Sinatra made girls swoon, bobby socks were the rage, Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House, and Ted Williams hit for a .406 average. These were the days of v-mail (letters and photos mailed on microfilm and then printed), vinyl, and typewriters.

The museum was founded in 1982 by David Wright, a World War II buff and former Marine from Worcester, who wanted a place near his Tuftonboro summer home to house his military vehicle collection. Much of that collection is still functional and on display in the cavernous military wing, highlighted by a five-man 84,000-pound Pershing tank used in the March 1945 crossing of the Remagen bridge over the Rhine (the first Allied bridgehead in the closing days of the war), a bit of memorabilia still used in parades. An introductory eight-minute video presentation gives an overview of the era.

"He didn't just want a military museum," said Mark Foynes, the museum's executive director, of Wright, who died in 2003 at 72. "He wanted a museum to reflect American life during that time."

On the home front, sacrifice and rationing were the hallmarks. Displays show the standard kitchen with apple corers, rolling pins, the oak Hoosier cabinet, and gas-powered icebox. The living room had the piano, floor model radio, and photos of loved ones serving abroad. With rationing of gas - selling then for 10 to 15 cents a gallon - single-speed bicycles were a common form of transportation. Toys were cardboard cutout soldiers, wooden trains, and board games, since metal was used for military production.

Citizens did their part through organizations like the Red Cross, civil defense leagues, and scouting. Radio and print journalists like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Ernie Pyle were the media stars. The colorful poster campaign that encouraged citizens to persevere is displayed throughout the museum.

This time tunnel offers glimpses into the news, economy, and pop culture at home and away. Life magazine covers line the walls, each year gives prices for homes, salaries, the Dow Jones average, and more. Interactive displays provide quick history lessons. In the tunnel is the flag that hung over US headquarters in Paris on V-E Day, May 7, 1945.

Besides motorized displays of planes, tanks, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the military wing promotes New England connections. One of the most stirring is a dress uniform worn by Rene Gagnon, a Manchester Marine private. Gagnon, 19, was one of five Marines and a Navy corpsman captured in the historic photograph of them raising the flag on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. Three of the six would not survive the battle; the photo would make celebrities of Gagnon and the others.

Marty Basch can be reached at marty@martybasch.com.

If You Go

Wright Museum

77 Center St. Wolfeboro, N.H.

603-569-1212

wrightmuseum.org

Daily May 1-Oct. 31 and weekends in April and November. Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday noon-4. Adults $6, seniors over 55 and veterans $5, students $3, children under age 8 free.

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