JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Two new exhibits about the contributions of World War II medics at the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston are bringing a realistic view of war stories to museum visitors.
Each of the new exhibits are dioramas of scenes during World War II in which mannequins representing AMEDD medics are treating and transporting wounded mannequin service members: a street corner in a French town during the Battle of Normandy in 1944 of a wounded Army dispatch rider and an injured Soldier laying on an improvised stretcher bolted to the frame of an Army jeep during the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945. In both exhibits, each of the wounded mannequins are painted with fake blood, making their injuries seem real.
AMEDD Museum Director George Wunderlich said the dioramic exhibits are a new concept for the museum’s gallery.
“It’s a departure from what we’ve done in the past as a museum, but it is something we want to do a lot more of,” Wunderlich said. “So much of our work here has been artifacts and cases and one of the things we’re trying to do is to bring those immersion experiences in.”
The diorama of the wounded dispatch rider is placed at the start of the museum gallery, where a timeline mural once was. The scene depicts a street corner in Carentan, France, on June 13, 1944, in which the dispatch rider, leaning against a stucco wall, has a compound fracture on his left leg, resting it on an object on a brick sidewalk.
The dispatch rider is being treated by an AMEDD medic giving him a morphine injection. Included in the scene is a 1942 Army motorcycle the dispatcher was riding when he was wounded while taking orders to the battlefield.
Carentan was the site of a battle after the D-Day Normandy invasion between Allied and German forces, who were defending the town. The scene includes stucco and brick walls with recreated bullet holes and light blue shutters on the brick wall. An interpretative panel is placed on the brick wall.
The diorama was put together with the help of museum staff members and volunteer Maj. Tyler Reed. Anne-Marie Berglund, a museum volunteer, grew up in Normandy during World War II and gave her input on how the scene could be realistic to the time period of the 1940s. Berglund also donated the milk container and lace white curtains that are attached to the shutters. Both of those items were in use in Normandy during the battle.
Wunderlich said the motorcycle was donated by the family of an AMEDD medic who served in Korea and bought, restored and rode the motorcycle in parades.
Angel Kelley, AMEDD Center of History and Heritage museum specialist, said putting the motorcycle diorama together was a learning experience for her and the museum staff. Her primary focus on the exhibit was creating the wound of the compound fracture on the dispatch rider.
Kelley said creating the fake blood, made of layered acrylic paint and latex, was a two-day trial and error. She said she gathered information on how to make fake wounds by watching YouTube videos of people in cosplay who made fake wounds for their costumes.
She said the purpose of putting together the diorama, especially the making of the compound fracture wound, is to make the exhibit as realistic as possible.
“Obviously, we don’t want to make anything too gory, we don’t want to scare anyone way but at the same time it’s the Army and it’s a war,” Kelley said. “In the AMEDD, what we do is treat people who are injured and so this is an unfortunate reality for what we do.”
The mannequin on the improvised stretcher carrier bolted to the frame of the jeep has a shoulder injury, which was also painted and put on with layered acrylic paint and latex, and a patient tag.
Wunderlich said during World War II there were many instances were ambulances could not get through in certain places, making the jeep the only way to transport the wounded. To do this, Wunderlich said medics would have to make improvised stretcher carriers. The jeep exhibit also includes a mannequin driver.
Surrounding the jeep diorama are walls of interpretative panels and displays of personal stories of medics and nurses who served in World War II, including prisoners of war and AMEDD Medal of Honor recipients, covering both the European and Pacific theaters of the war.
In addition, the exhibit includes displays and stories about AMEDD medical specialists including dentists, veterinary corps, physical therapists, occupational therapists and respiratory therapists who were part of the war effort.
Wunderlich said since the jeep is attuned to the story of the medic, the tools and medical equipment used by medics and paintings of medics in action have been placed in the area of the exhibit.
Wunderlich recalls one instance in which the jeep exhibit elicited a response from a World War II veteran who relayed his story of being evacuated on a jeep as a wounded servicemember.
“He came around the corner and he just froze,” Wunderlich said. “He just stopped and looked at it and said, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what it looked like.’ For him it brought back memories of his service.
“To his family and to the other people who were listening to him at that point, they got a story they wouldn’t otherwise been able to get,” Wunderlich added. “That meant that this exhibit not only did its job of education but it was realistic enough that for someone who was there, they could see themselves again and I think that’s the real test of these immersion exhibits.”
Going forward, Wunderlich said the museum’s long-term goal is to have an immersion exhibit component in each major time period of AMEDD’s history covered in the museum.
The AMEDD Museum, located at the corner of Harry Wurzbach and Stanley Roads at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, is free and open to both Department of Defense cardholders and the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Visitors who want to come to the museum but do not have DOD access to get into JBSA-Fort Sam Houston can find information on base entry requirements at http://www.jbsa.mil/Information/Visitor-Information/.
Museum information is at http://ameddmuseum.amedd.army.mil/index.html. To contact the museum, call 210-221-6358.