VFW Museum Offers a Look Into Military History

By Devon Cormier  

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PHOTO BY ROB VARELA, VENTURA COUNTY STAR // BUY THIS PHOTO

Wayne Wright, commander VFW Post 10049, relaxes next to a display in the post’s military museum in a storefront at the Simi Valley Town Center.

Anthony Keehne’s passion for military history, nurtured since childhood, was enhanced with the gift of scrapbooks filled with his grandfather’s research on the subject.

After recently walking through the military history exhibit sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10049 at the Simi Valley Town Center, Keehne, 30, said he wants to share his grandfather’s work by loaning it to the museum.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said of the facility showcasing military memorabilia from the early 1900s to today. “It would be cool to show off” his grandfather’s collection, the Simi Valley resident said.

The VFW had a small display at the mall for seven months, but it was moved in October to the larger former American Eagle storefront. Mall management donated the site until March 2012 and the VFW is seeking a business or other sponsor to help keep it open longer.

The current exhibit features close to 150 original posters and lithographs from the collection of Nigel Boucher, a Navy veteran who did two tours in Vietnam, 1967-69. A 39-year Simi resident, he joined the VFW four years ago after retiring from the motion picture industry.

Complementing the poster collection are thousands of pieces of military memorabilia, including correspondence to and from servicemen and women, uniform displays, small weaponry and historical newspapers and magazines, most donated by Post 10049 members and Independent Studio Services which provides war items for movies.

Having a “museum” of military history in a public place is unique, said VFW District 7 Commander Wayne Wright. Wright, who also serves as Post 10049 adjutant, represents 15 posts from Central Los Angeles to Palmdale, including Simi.

“Many of the posts have memorabilia displays, photos and equipment, but to my knowledge this is the only historical display in Southern California for an American Legion or VFW post,” said Wright, who was an Army pilot in Vietnam and then in the Army Reserve until 1991.

Located in Suite 220 toward the mall’s east end, the exhibit hall is open noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free.

On Wednesday, starting at 6 p.m., the public is invited to join in commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Following a “meet and greet” and entertainment, Boucher will give a talk on the 1941 event that led to the United States entering World War II. He’ll also address the making of the 2001 motion picture “Pearl Harbor,” portions of which were filmed at Naval Base Ventura County at Port Hueneme, and CSU Channel Islands. Boucher was decorating director on the film.

At 7 p.m., Wright, master of ceremonies, will recognize any WWII veterans or Pearl Harbor survivors attending and a candlelight walk will take place around the Town Center Christmas tree.

Boucher, Post 10049 senior vice commander, has been collecting posters since 1965. The earliest is a 1908 Army recruiting poster.

“I’ve done a lot of movies all over the United States and found them (posters) in flea markets, garage sales, antique shops. All the lithographs weren’t too expensive back then,” Boucher said. A 1916 lithograph of a German ruler depicted as a gorilla pillaging the countryside was discovered rolled up in the back of an antique store back East. Boucher estimates it’s now worth $12,000 to $14,000.

Paired with Boucher’s posters, the museum displays reflect a timeline of America’s most recent military past.

Featured are areas on: WWI, WWII and Vietnam; the USO; Latino soldiers; a Medal of Honor tribute; a bulletin board of local service men and women; and a Gold Star “Price of Freedom” memorial to Simi Valley’s deceased war heroes, including Freddie Castro, a WWII casualty; Lance Cpl. Gregory Ervin, 1967 Vietnam; Sgt. Michael DiRaimondo and Cpl. Christopher Gibson, 2004 Iraq; and most recently, Staff Sgt. Joshua Cullins, killed October 2010 in Afghanistan.

Especially poignant is a table set for American POWs and MIAs.

Information on the history of VFW dating back to 1898 and the VFW Ladies Auxiliary is also available.

Except for a replicated motorbike, all the items displayed are authentic, said Post 10049 Commander Jim Curry. He served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam.

Several thousand visitors have gone through the museum, including history students from Moorpark College and Simi Valley High, and recently two Marines home on leave from Afghanistan. The goal, Curry said, is to get more families, young people and veterans to come in.

“We’re always looking for ways to educate and keep the community involved in veterans activities,” he said.

© 2011 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. 

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- vcstar.com

Filed in: Post 10049 In The News

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