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[VIST] Maine Military Museum And Learning Center



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SHARING PERSONAL STORIES FROM THE REVOLUTION TO THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR

Maine may not have technically been one of the original 13 colonies, as it was then part of Massachusetts, but it was actually a center of patriotism during the American Revolution. 

It had less Loyalist activity than most colonies and was the center of British efforts to occupy parts of the future state, which was to be made into a new colony dubbed “New Ireland.”

Instead of becoming a permanent colony for Loyalists, Maine remained a true part of the soon-to-be-independent United States of America. 

In June 1819, the District of Maine was officially separated from the rest of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a year later, it became a state as part of the Missouri Compromise — a moment that would eventually lead to the American Civil War. It was a conflict in which many sons from the Pine Tree State would take part, notably at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Soldiers and families from all eras have donated uniforms and belongings to the museum for authentic displays.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st, the state continues to maintain a strong military heritage. It’s still evident in the state’s motto: “Dirigo,” Latin for “I lead.”

The history of Maine’s military role in America’s wars is now shared at the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center in South Portland. The privately run museum was founded to teach current and future generations the true meaning of “Service above self.”

Exhibits in the museum cover every aspect of military service from the Revolutionary War to modern conflicts of the 21st century. Yet, museum founder and curator Lee Humiston is quick to affirm that the purpose isn’t about the glorification of war. 

Uniforms are mixed with magazine covers, propaganda posters, models, flags, and other media to tell the full story of each conflict as well as provide insight into the home front.

Rather, it’s to show respect for those who fought, and in many cases made the ultimate sacrifice, for Maine and the United States.

Humiston, who joined the U.S. Air Force in 1956, founded the facility after he had amassed one of the largest collections of Vietnam War (Second Indochina War) prisoner of war (POW) artifacts. 

Noting that while many museums touched on the battles and units, few often told such personal stories of those who were forced to endure months, and even years, as POWs.

World War II soldiers pose in fully outfitted uniforms with gear and guns.

He had gained experience building exhibits, including a 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Homecoming for the Nixon Library, two exhibitions at the Smithsonian, and even one in the Hindenburg hanger at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey.

A PERMANENT MUSEUM 

From efforts with the temporary exhibits, Humiston built the Maine Military Museum & Learning Center to honor Maine’s men and women who have served the state and the nation over the last 300 years. The privately run 501(c)(3) nonprofit shares the stories of servicemembers from every conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War, to current-day actions. 

A pilot ejects and lands via parachute with limited injuries.

“Maine proportionately sent more off to war than any other state,” says Humiston.

The museum may have begun essentially as Humiston’s own personal collection but now the majority of items on display have been donated by veterans and their families. 

Much of it has a connection to Maine, but there are a significant number of uniforms, headgear, and even small arms now part of the collection that could be best described as war trophies and souvenirs — they’ve also been donated and help tell the story of the conflicts fought by Maine’s sons, and in the 21st century, its daughters as well.

Much of collection — especially those from the 20th century — are fully authentic, including some firearms dating back to the Revolutionary War. Every piece of history from a field-dug cannon ball to a modern flight suit or a 48-star U.S. flag that flew on D-Day helps preserve a moment from history. 

POW bracelets made into art are part of the display at the Maine Military Museum.

However, due to the rarity, not to mention the costs, some of the Civil War and Revolutionary War uniforms and accoutrements are reenactor reproductions. Even in these cases, Humiston strives for items to be as period correct as possible.

The collection also includes two significant items related to the Spanish-American War. There’s an original early 20th century print of the USS Maine, the battleship that blew up in Havana Harbor and led to America’s declaration of war.

In addition, the museum has just one of 1,000 number casting plaques that were made by famed Americana sculptor Charles Keck from salvaged pieces of the U.S. Navy warship.

From American Army khakis to the ostrich feathers of a British bonnet, soldiers and their gear are represented.

In addition, as aircraft and other vehicles are beyond the means of the privately owned and run museum, it relies on detailed models and dioramas donated or built by volunteers.

The museum currently houses a great deal of historical military artifacts in a small space, with displays thoughtfully constructed. 

Humiston and a group of hand-selected volunteers are on hand to walk visitors through the museum to provide history to just about any item or mannequin dressed in gear. 

A soldier collected these pieces of embroidered work during his convalescence period.

Though politics is avoided throughout the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center, Humiston has said it’s important to include items that showed the propaganda that has often played a role in war — notably the Vietnam War. The walls of the small museum are filled with striking images that show how some media outlets gave a voice to those who may have provided aid and comfort to America’s enemy. 

HONORING THE POW

As noted, a significant portion of the collection is now focused on the story of the American POW. This is important to Humiston, who said that he has a special interest in POW items and didn’t want to just focus on displays of the “shiny” items.

Museum founder and curator Lee Humiston poses with a school mascot awarded to him on a visit on game day.

Instead, he strived to show visitors moments that some would like to forget. He went so far as to build a replica of a prison cell from Vietnam-era Hanoi with exact measurements; later, he even added rats after a veteran made a comment. In addition, the museum has on display dozens of rarely-seen photos of U.S. POWs in Vietnam. 

Not all items are the uniforms of Maine natives, but from bring-backs and donations with just as much significance.

Also at the museum is a grouping of four mannequins that are actually the same airman dressed in the uniform he was captured in, his POW uniform, release outfit, and the uniform he wore when he went back into action. 

Another prized piece in the museum is the flight suit from Colonel Scotty Morgan. He was the fourth man captured and brought to Hanoi. In 2011, the Vietnam government contacted the Air Force and Morgan — who was retired — to return the uniform. Until then, it had been on display in Vietnam. 

World War II display shows soldiers with some of the gear used in the day.

“Uniforms usually didn’t survive, especially with zippers,” explains Humiston. Zippers weren’t common at that time in Asia, and uniforms were often cut and shredded to remove them. 

A JEWEL IN ANY TRIP TO MAINE

Maine is more known for its picturesque landscape and outdoor activities; however, the state’s contribution to all branches of service in the military make the Maine Military Museum & Learning Center a meaningful stop on a visit to the Pine Tree State. 

Each of the many pieces in the museum has a story behind it — about the service member and the action that took place by the soldier or piece of gear. 

Humiston and his group of volunteers are always available to walk visitors through the building and offer background and perspective behind each piece and how it fits into our history. 

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