Black W.W.II History Museum Opens in Pownal

Bennington Banner
Monday, June 5, 2006
Staff Writer

POWNAL -- After a lifetime of collecting war memorabilia, Bruce Bird of Pownal was finally able to fulfill his dream.  On Saturday, Bird opened up the black World War II History Museum at the old school house in Pownal.

According to Bird, nearly 20 people attended the opening of the museum, including state Rep. Bill Botzow, Select Board Chairman Nelson Brownell and a color guard from the Vermont National Guard.

Bird said he has been collecting military artifacts for as long as he can remember.

"I've been interested in military history since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  In 1988 and 1990 I was the founder and curator of the Vermont Veterans Militia Museum, which is the National Guard's museum in Vermont," he said.

After budget cuts forced severe cutbacks in the museum, Bird began to look for space to open another museum.

"I looked and looked for a building, for almost 15 years, and finally found this place," said Bird.

Bird initially planned on his museum covering the war in a much broader fashion, but decided to narrow the focus as he learned more and more about African-American servicemen.

"I was going to do World War II in general, but in the last 10 years, stuff began to trickle out that there was black service in World War II.  Most people don't know much about it," he said.  "As a historian there are two things that really bother me.  One is people who never did the heavy lifting who still claim all the credit.  The other is those who did the heavy lifting and did not get the credit for it.  This is true with the black troops.  We heard little about what they did."

Bird said he was fascinated to learn about the thousands of black servicemen and women who served heroically for the United States.  A small exhibit in the museum portrays the efforts of the 761st tank battalion, an all-black unit that received 391 decorations for heroism.  Out of about 700 soldiers in the battalion, Bird said 246 received Purple Hearts for their service.

The museum also offers a glimpse into a dark time in our Nation's past, with striking examples of racism.

To give you an idea of how racist they were at the time, see black Nurses in the panel to the left.

The museum features models, guns, ammunition and plenty of pictures to illustrate the war, which was painstakingly set up and labeled by Bird.

"I have had friends assisting me a little bit.  I am hoping more people volunteer," he said.

Bird hopes that the museum will be an attraction for tourists and an educational experience for students in the area.  He is hoping to apply for grant money in the next year so he can add to the museum, creating a place that will last long after he is gone.

During Saturday's opening, Bird said that after years of collecting and planning, his emotions were too strong to contain.

"I totally broke down in my speech.  I was completely tongue tied.  It all just hit me at once," he said.

The museum will be open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  There will be a $5 admission fee for all adults, and a $3 fee for children ages 6 to 18, senior citizens and veterans.