SIMI VALLEY

‘Secrets of WWII’ exhibit opens Saturday at Reagan library in Simi Valley

Mike Harris
Ventura County Star
An M4 Sherman Tank is on display at the new Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum exhibit, "Secrets of WWII." The exhibit opens at the Simi Valley museum Saturday.

A German search and rescue plane. An American Sherman tank. Fragments of Japanese bombs used in an attack on Southern California.

They, plus more than 150 other artifacts, are part of a new exhibit, "The Secrets of WWII," opening Saturday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley. It runs through Oct. 9.

"This exhibit is really, really fun and wonderful," said Randle Swan, the library's supervisor curator, Thursday as workers put the final touches on the display.

"If you've done other World War II exhibits, you probably haven't done one like this before," he said. "We've got all the elements you need for a World War II exhibit and a whole bunch of stories that are just kind of out there.

"The trivia of World War II," he said. "Things you might not know about it."

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Besides the artifacts, life-size panels tell stories of the war that museum visitors may be unaware of, Swan said.

They include:

  • "Maidenform Goes to the Birds," about the American undergarment manufacturer Maidenform, which produced two products for the U.S. military: parachutes and "pigeon vests," designed to protect he carrier pigeons that were strapped to the chests of paratroopers when they jumped out of planes.
  • "From Fatherland to Farmland," about POW camps in rural America, particularly Nebraska, for captured German soldiers.
  • "Joe Medicine Crow," about the Crow Indian who became a scout in the 103rd Infantry Division.

"Some of our stories were secrets during the war or in the years leading to the war but have since been released," Swan said. "Many of our stories are just lesser known to a wider audience.

"Our goal is to educate and have people, after seeing our exhibition, go back and search for even more information about World War II," he said. "That includes a whole new younger generation for whom this isn't ancient history but isn't new history either."

Beside the artifacts and panels, the exhibit includes videos of six living World War II veterans telling their stories.

"We have a whole World War II generation that is quickly fading away and some of these stories will go away with them," Swan said.

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Other artifacts that will be on display include two German Enigma coding-decoding machines, a knife from Omaha Beach, an M1 Garand rifle used at the Battle of the Bulge, a Dodge WC-54 Ambulance, an antiaircraft searchlight and an antiaircraft gun.

"When you walk through this, you get the sense that it's stuff from all aspects of World War II," Swan said, "whether it's the canteen serving biscuits and coffee to the troops in Nebraska or the Japanese bombing the United States."

Swan said the exhibit was conceived in part from polling museum visitors.

"And a lot of people were interested in the topic of World War II," he said.

Library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said the artifacts came from private lenders, foundations and other museums. It took the library about eight months to put the exhibit together, she said.

Once it ends in October, the artifacts will be returned, she said.

To celebrate the exhibit's opening to the public 10 a.m. Saturday, two World War II planes – a B25 Bomber and a Hellcat – will fly over the library.

The library is at 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley. Public hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For more information on the exhibition and to pre-purchase tickets, visit ReaganLibrary.com/WWII.

Mike Harris covers the East County cities of Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, as well as transportation countywide. You can contact him at mike.harris@vcstar.com or 805-437-0323.

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