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Fort Sam Houston Museum planning exhibit improvements for 2019

By David DeKunder | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | March 19, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

The Fort Sam Houston Museum is updating and adding new exhibits that will help visitors expand their knowledge on the history of the post and of U.S. military history.

New and updated exhibits that are planned for the museum in 2019 cover a range of historical topics and artifacts related to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and the military, including the role of Army units and commands from the post during World War II and the story behind a gift from famed Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa to a U.S. Army general.

Museum director Jacqueline Davis said the addition of the new and updated exhibits are aligned with the museum’s mission of presenting a complete, detailed history of JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

“It adds to the intricacy of tapestry that is the history of Fort Sam Houston,” Davis said. “Our job is to elaborate. We’ve set the framework out, now we have to fill it in.”

The museum started updating its exhibits in January with additional interpretation and details about the history of the U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) or ARNORTH, which is headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

The additional interpretation was added to a current exhibit about ARNORTH and includes details about Fifth Army’s role in leading the invasion of Salerno, Italy, the first Allied land invasion of Europe during World War II in September 1943. Also, the expanded interpretation covers the time period for the command that is now ARNORTH established its headquarters in Illinois in the late 1940s to its move to Fort Sam Houston in 1971.

Included in the ARNORTH exhibit is a display of a uniform worn by Lt. Col. Charles Ellis, who served in counter intelligence with the Fifth Army in Italy during World War II. After his service in the military, Ellis eventually moved to San Antonio where he became the special agent in charge of the local Secret Service office and retired here.

A serape, a brightly-colored shawl or blanket, given to U.S. Army Gen. Hugh Scott from Villa in the mid- 1910s, has been put on display next to an interpretative panel about Villa and the troubles along the U.S.-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution (1910-20). At the time he received the serape from Villa, Scott was the commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade stationed in the Southwest.

The approximately 100-year-old serape includes several striped combinations of red, yellow, orange and white and was woven together using natural fibers from cotton and wool. In the middle of the serape, is a blue field with the American seal and eagle with Scott’s rank and name woven into it. Bordering the field are green, white, and red, the colors of the Mexican flag.

The interpretative panel about Villa explains how the Mexican revolutionary leader and the U.S. started out as allies and the reasons why Villa turned against the U.S. In March 1916, Villa and 500 of his men raided Columbus, New Mexico, killing eight civilians and 10 Soldiers from the 13th Cavalry and burning several buildings. In response to troubles and incidents on the border, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the military to pursue Villa, an expedition that was led by Gen. John Pershing.

The serape is one of two given to Scott by Villa in the museum’s collection. The first serape to be put on display had Villa’s name woven on it. The photo of the first serape will be displayed next to the Villa interpretative panel.

Upcoming new and updated exhibits include a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in June 1944, focusing on what past and present units stationed at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston were doing during the time of the invasion and new exhibits about members of the Women’s Army Corps and German prisoners of war at Fort Sam Houston during World War II.

In addition, a pre-Civil War period field howitzer cannon has been placed in the foyer of the museum. The historic cannon had been in storage in a warehouse at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston before being moved to the museum. It is one of two cannons that had been put on display inside the Quadrangle for years.

The cannon will become the centerpiece of an exhibit about artillery that will explain the differences between cannons, howitzers and mortar.

Updates that are going to be made to exhibits containing military artifacts include adding interpretation and photos to a Hiram Steven Maxim machine gun display and installing a display about Soldiers and their gear, including how the Army in 1911 changed from requiring troops to carry haversacks to backpacks and exploring the origins of how troops got their food, stored it in the field and the development of the mess kit.

Davis said the feedback she gets from visitors who come to the museum is that they always learn something new about JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and that they find the exhibits very interesting.

“There’s a lot of history out there and hopefully we’re presenting it in a manner that is entertaining, enjoyable and educational,” Davis said.

Located in the historic Quadrangle at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, the Fort Sam Houston Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. The museum is closed Sunday and federal holidays.