Museum With A Mission
American Legion Post #35 Showcases Military Memorabilia
By Liz Premo, Atlantic NewsStaff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, April 4, 2008
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]
HAMPTON -- Marine Corps Veteran George Masten is on a mission: Creating a museum reflecting a slice of America's military history.
He's already off to an impressive start with the collection of artifacts neatly on display at the American Legion Hall on High Street, home to Post #35 for the Hamptons.
A Legionnaire for just about a quarter of a century, Masten has, over the 1-1/2 years, been instrumental in the ongoing refurbishing of the structure, which was a movie theater during the 1940s. What he ultimately discovered was inspiring.
"I've been rehabbing the building inside, and up in the attic I found a lot of old prints and weapons and things like that," he explains. "They were put away years ago; stuff was ratted away up there."
Enlisting some assistance from a couple of his fellow Post #35 members, Masten has taken a room just off the former ticket booth and transformed it into a showcase for authentic military memorabilia and wartime-era items.
Masten's vision for the museum is to be an exhibit showcasing a piece of US military history, as well as the contribution the country's armed forces have made over the years to protect and secure America's liberties and freedoms.
It's an important lesson he is concerned may be missing in today's educational arena.
"They don't teach history anymore; they glorify it or whitewash it, one of the two," he observes. "It's part of history, and if you don't have [these] things and don't tell people what they are, they aren't going to know."
The fruit of Masten's dedicated labor is already evident. A goodly amount of the well-organized display is from the treasure trove he found stored in the attic; other items have been donated or are from his own collection.
"I have been collecting stuff for 50 years," he says, "and even before that, when I was a kid."
Although he lightheartedly jokes that "there's so much stuff there I can't remember [all of it]," Masten offers a partial list of what's on display in Post #35's museum.
"There are some rifles from the Spanish-American War and World War I; swords, helmets, old WWI French posters brought back from France, I would imagine," he says.
Indeed, one aged piece of framed "art" — what appears to be a printed proclamation issued by the Mayor of Bar-le-Duc in Lorraine, France — declares November 11, 1918 (the date that WWI officially ended) as when "le jour de gloire est arrive!"
Along an opposite wall are bayonets and swords from the Civil War, machine gun blanks from the Viet Nam era, a field telephone, uniforms, a GI tent stove, "Meals Ready-to-Eat" and "C-Rations," insignia patches, helmets, and much more.
"There's all kinds of what we call 782 gear," adds Masten, "equipment that the average soldier would use."
Over by a window is a pair of trench binoculars (on a tall tripod, suitable for surveillance from a foxhole), and a display case with an army of die-cast replicas of military tanks and armored vehicles, trucks, and aircraft, donated by a Legion member.
There are scrap books, maps and photo albums, and a couple of framed photos in sepia and shades of grey catch the eye as well.
"There's pictures of military units from New England and New Hampshire," says Masten, who is featured in a couple of photos of himself in uniform.
Currently a resident of Stratham, Masten was stationed for 13 months in Korea in the Demilitarized Zone, and in Vietnam. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at age 18, serving three years of active duty and five years in the Reserves between 1951-59.
He took a couple of years off, then completed five more years in the Reserves and two in active duty from 1960-69. While in Vietnam he saw combat in the mountains southwest of Da Nang for six months, before suffering a bad leg wound as a result of an enemy mortar shell attack.
"I came home and spent 7-8 months in the hospital," he says, adding that four of his fellow Marines were wounded and one was killed in the same attack.
Now almost 40 years later, Masten is still living out the USMC's motto of "Semper Fi" ("Always Faithful") with his involvement in Post #35 and various related projects, like the museum. But he's more than ready to share the glory for these accomplishments.
"There's a number of people who work on it," he says. "I work at it; other people come and work when they can, or when I call for it."
He's also looking forward to welcoming any new acquisitions to the museum's collection.
"I just have people bring it in," he says. "Whatever they bring — we have a nail on the wall for it."
For more information about Post #35's museum, call (603) 929-4695. Find out more about Post #35 at www.post35.com or www.hampton.lib.nh.us/hampton/history/military/legionpost35/index.htm.
museum. [Atlantic News Photos by Liz Premo.]