History comes alive at Tropic Lightning Museum

| March 26, 2010 | 0 Comments

Story and Photo by
Spc. Jesus Aranda
25th Infantry Division Public Affairs

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — All “taro leaf” veterans have stories to tell, and so do the relics on display at the Tropic Lightning Museum, here.

The museum has recounted the 25th Infantry Division’s history through the memories of its Soldiers and families since 1984, when it was known as the Tropic Lightning Historical Center.

The Tropic Lightning Museum showcases authentic 25th Infantry Division weapons and supplies, as well as enemy memorabilia like this Japanese captain’s saber. The museum, which is located on Schofield Barracks, offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the post’s humble beginning during the early 1900s. The island of Oahu was evaluated as strategically significant by Gen. John Schofield in April 1909, and the U.S. Army began construction on a camp at Schofield soon afterward. While technical manuals and military accounts of past wars and conflicts tell stories of the meaning of each exhibit on display, the personal stories —recounted by the Tropic Lightning veterans who lived, sacrificed and triumphed through these difficult times — draw visitors into a more personal tale.

“We cover the history of the division, and Wheeler Army Air Field and Schofield Barracks,” said Kathleen Ramsden, the museum’s curator.

“Depending on deployments, we get anywhere between 10 to 12,000 visitors a year, which is pretty good for a small museum,” she added.

First-hand accounts of the environment, challenges and strife of the 25th Inf. Div. campaigns accompany a majority of the exhibits depicting the World War II, Korea and Vietnam timeframes.

These accounts are retold in the pages of the Tropic Lightning Museum’s “The Way it Was: Memoirs and Recollections,” a collection of stories and tales penned by division veterans throughout the Pacific.

“We ask visiting veterans, should they wish to do so, to display a first-person account and send a photograph of themselves during the time that they served so that we can chronicle their experiences in the exhibits for other visitors,” she said.

“The displays allow veterans to connect with certain pieces on a personal level at times,” Ramsden said. “They spark memories for (the veterans).”

Authentic weapons, artifacts and memorabilia from each of the division’s combat campaigns are displayed, to include a myriad of firearms, weaponry and communication devices used by Soldiers.

According to Ramsden, a number of items, such as uniforms, were donated by veterans and family members many years after their service. Other items and unit lore are from recent deployments.

“One item we have on display is a Mauser (a pistol) given to Col. Walter Piatt and the 3rd Brigade, 25th Inf. Div., in appreciation for their partnership and friendship with the Iraqi people during their deployment,” Ramsden said.

The story behind these kinds of gifts adds to the importance of what the object represents, according to Ramsden.

In addition to seeing these donated items, visitors can see the visual history of Schofield Barracks. Schofield’s timeline, told through photos, displays and documented stories, illustrates life on the post from its formation as a temporary camp in December 1908 to the present.

“We have stories about what life was like to live on Schofield during, what I like to call, ‘the pioneering days.’” Ramsden said. “Before there were running water and roads, there were tents … life was hard when (Soldiers) first got here.”

Like Schofield Barracks, the history of the Tropic Lightning Division is constantly growing.

As such, plans are in place to ensure the Tropic Lightning Museum is able to facilitate the “new pages” of the division’s lore.

“We’re currently working on our east wing, where we’re going to try to do an expansion,” Ramsden said. “This will give us space to put next exhibits in, including a permanent exhibit for our (Overseas Contingency Operation).”

Ramsden believes Schofield Barracks continuous history is unique.

“Because we’re such an active post, we’re consistently growing,” Ramsden said. “Our history isn’t a static history. It doesn’t stop or slow down at certain times, we’re constantly adding to our history.”

Click here to visit the 25th ID Museum’s Web site.

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