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SCOHFIELD BARRACKS — The lawn of the Tropic Lightning Museum, here, was abuzz with activity, Saturday, as Soldiers, re-enactors, history buffs and volunteers brought history to life for the annual “Living History Day.”
The daylong celebration is held each year to commemorate the 25th Infantry Division’s Organization Day and longstanding history in the islands.
Donations raised during the event also support the “Tropic Lightning” Division and the museum, a U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii facility.
“Living History Day offers a number of opportunities for visitors to interact with history in a unique way,” said Kathleen Ramsden, museum curator, Tropic Lightning Museum, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, USAG-HI.
“It provides an engaging atmosphere where visitors and families can interact with history to see what life was like for Soldiers,” Ramsden explained, referencing the myriad activities offered to guests, including hands-on games and displays, interactive dance demos with the Hawaii Jitterbugs and informatinal booths from historical preservation organizations.
“The importance of (Living History Day) is to honor those who have served while preserving a part of history,” said Bill Nieporte Jr., a volunteer re-enactor.
Dressed in full combat gear from the Vietnam War — all of it, save the model grenades, authentic and gathered over a two-year period — Nieporte roamed the museum grounds during Living History Day 2012 to pose for pictures, flash a peace sign or two and share factoids about what life might have been like for those who served in the military conflict.
“My father, Bill Nieporte Sr., served with the 25th ID during Vietnam,” Nieporte said, standing next to a restored 1952 Willys-Overland M38A1 Jeep, a vehicle that would have been used by the military from the early 1950s through the late ‘70s.
Sensing interest about the Jeep, Nieporte directed questions to its owner, Adam Lipka, who was stationed not too far away at the Hawaii Civil War Round Table camp.
“(Collecting wartime memorabilia) is a way to get hands-on with the history of the U.S. Army,” said Lipka, behind the visage of a Union Soldier.
Lipka is a member with the local round table, which sponsors lectures and participates in similar living history events to educate the public about the American Civil War.
Members take great pride in keeping true to the details of the era, be it the types of food eaten in camp to the scuffs and tarnish that would be present on weapons used in battle. Even the re-enactors’ clothes are made by hand to conform to the standard of dress worn in the 1800s.
“Everything is made to be as accurate as possible,” Lipka said, flashing the buttons of his handsewn shirt and the heavy backing of his uniform medal.
“And since I don’t have a time machine, this is my way to help keep the memory of what once was alive,” Lipka added, with a laugh.
In fact, the theme “living history” centers on doing just that — preserving the past by bringing it into the present for future generations to enjoy.
“Our Living History Day at Tropic Lightning Museum adds a layer of understanding that builds on the history presented in the museum’s exhibits,” Ramsden said, “(and) offers a chance to celebrate the formation of the 25th Infantry Division and spotlights its ongoing history.”
Tropic Lightning Museum
Since its inception in 1956, the Tropic Lightning Museum has strived to collect, preserve, interpret and exhibit the artifacts and related memorabilia that reflect the history of the 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield.
Originally housed in a small room behind the Headquarters Commandant’s office, the museum has relocated and evolved from a small division collection to an impressive historical holding recognized as a provisional U.S. Army Museum by the Chief of Military History.
The Tropic Lightning Museum today is located in Carter Hall, the original Post Library, and houses galleries that tell the history of Army life in Hawaii, from “the way it was” at Schofield Barracks in 1908-1942, through battles waged by Soldiers in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, to current conflicts in the Middle East.
Construction for two new exhibits, to include permanent exhibits covering Overseas Contingency Operations and the branches of the Army, are currently underway.
The Tropic Lightning Museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and is closed Sundays, Mondays and all federal holidays.
The museum is located on Waianae Avenue, Bldg. 361, Schofield Barracks.
Visit www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil or call 655-0438 for more information.