Museum clings to black WWII history
White owner struggles to stay in business
September 30, 2007
BY WILSON RING
POWNAL, Vt. -- Down a dirt driveway, in one of the whitest states in the nation, is a museum dedicated to the experiences of black servicemen and -women during World War II.
The Museum of Black World War II History is run by 65-year-old Bruce Bird, a white, retired factory worker who sold his home and used the proceeds to convert a two-room 19th century schoolhouse to house it. The museum, which opened in June 2006, offers display cases filled with World War II weapons, models of tanks and aircraft and other memorabilia.
At best, it gets a handful of visitors a week.
Bird doesn't know where the money will come from to pay his next fuel oil bill.
But he's steadfast in his resolve to recognize the WWII service and sacrifice of more than 1.1 million black servicemen and -women.
''We don't get enough people yet,'' Bird said. ''With any museum, you essentially need a rich sponsor. We haven't found one yet. I contend this museum should be run by a rich, famous black veteran, none of which I am.''
But Bird's build-it-and-they-will-come approach appears to be working, a little bit at a time.
''I think the museum is a great thing,'' said Gregory Black, a retired U.S Navy officer who runs the Web site blackmilitaryworld.com and has a link to the Vermont museum from his site. ''One of the things, overall, that African Americans are very disenchanted with these days is we don't really feel appreciated. We don't feel recognized for the contributions that we've made."
Bird wants to change that. His displays tell the stories of:
• • The 6888th Central Postal Directory Unit, made up entirely of black women who served in Europe.
• • The 761st Tank Battalion, which spent 183 days in combat in Europe.
• • The Pearl Harbor heroics of U.S. Navy mess attendant 2nd class Dorie Miller, of the battleship West Virginia. During the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, he pulled many wounded shipmates to safety and then, wielding a weapon he hadn't been trained to use, shot down at least two Japanese planes.
• • The Battle of the Bulge, in December 1944, when about half of the artillery battalions surrounded by the Germans near the Belgian city of Bastogne were made up of black soldiers.
And, of course, the museum has a display about the Tuskegee Airmen, the aviators who came to symbolize the challenges of black service members who sought to fly in combat and, once there, won the respect of fellow servicemen and the enemy.
'Hell of a good time'
Bird, who is single, used the profits from the sale of his house to buy a vacant schoolhouse. He used his credit card to put on a new roof and pay for electrical, plumbing and heating work. Much remains to be done.
The building is accessible to the handicapped, except that it doesn't have a handicapped-accessible restroom, and he can't afford the $5,000 cost to build one, so he can't bring in bus tours, as he'd like.
''I am having a hell of a good time," Bird said. "I never made appreciable amounts of money. I never married. What am I going to do for the rest of my life?
''Eventually, I will leave enough money so they can hire someone,'' he said. ''The first plan is to live a long time because it will take a long time.''
Website Addy: Museum of Black WWII History
Founder and Curator
179 Oak Hill School Road
Pownal, VT 05261
I plan on making a donation to the museum. Don't forget our museums. I know where you live there is a local Black History Museum of some sort. They need our support, and in order to keep our story alive, we need to support them. I don't know when I'm going to get to Vermont again, but I can make a donation so that someone, if they're in that neck of the woods, can visit it.
Related Site: Black Military World