Something new to honor the past

How do you rebuild the past, maintain the historical integrity of time-honored military memorabilia and get the public to appreciate it for all it’s worth’ Build a museum, not just any museum, but one that is like none other. A dream more than 12 years in the making is coming true for members of the Heart of Texas Historical Museum. More than a decade of persistence to bring three monumental structures of historical military importance has finally paid off for Brady. The World War II vintage control tower building, (constructed in 1940-1941), the Prisoner of War Camp Guard Shack and the Curtis Field Guard Shack have all been moved to their new home behind the Brady museum. ” The historical significance of the control tower building should not be underestimated,” said Bert Striegler, director of special projects for the museum. “It was the last and the most significant wooden World War II building at Curtis Field that was still standing.” If good timing can make all the difference, then being in the right place at the right time played into the board’s favor last year when they received word that they could have the structure, providing that it be moved within a recommended timeframe. According to Striegler, the building was scheduled to be demolished by Dec. 1, 2006. “Due to the generosity of HRI in Dallas, who owned the structure, and with the help of Brady’s own Loadcraft Inc., the building was kindly donated to the museum’with the understanding that it had to be moved before December 2006,” explained Striegler. “During that same time period, the McCulloch County Commissioners Court agreed to trade the museum the old car impound lot behind the museum for another parcel of land in the area. This lot is now the new home of the control tower building and will also contain both the Curtis Field and POW guard shacks. “Curtis Field and the POW Camp probably had more influence on Brady’s growth and economic stability than anything else that has ever happened here.” Currently, work is progressing right along to restore the interior of the control tower building which will serve as the main building of the military compound. As much of the original material is being used, including knotty pine wainscotting in two of the larger rooms within the control tower building which will serve as meeting rooms for interested parties. Also, some of the original stonework from the POW Guard Shack has been retained on site for reconstruction. Over the years, the shack received a considerable amount of damage from vehicles entering the POW camp residential area because it served as a “median” for traffic going in and out of the camp. The structure is being rebuilt with as much of the original material as possible, and a stone setter is expected to begin work over the next week or so. According to Striegler, the lot behind the museum would not have accommodated the original control tower building; however, modifications were made in the mid-to-late 40s which made the restoration process possible. “In 1945, near the end of the war, the actual control tower was removed and temporarily put out in the center of the field near the crossing of the two runways,” he said. “Later on, a 30-foot section of the main building was removed. At the end of the war, the control tower was destroyed. The museum is building an exact replica of the tower where it used to be located on top of the existing building, and guests of the museum will be allowed to tour the tower. The main building will be used for military displays and for community meetings. Also included with the two large meeting rooms in the control tower building will be a kitchen, restroom, storage room for additional seating and a room designated solely for the purpose of displaying full dress military uniforms donated to the museum over the years. Any area civic group who would be interested in utilizing the facility can do so, free of charge. Striegler explained that all the museum board will ask is that they take care of the property and leave it in the same condition as they found it. Groups who would like to contribute to the museum can do so by leaving a donation in the “kitty fund” which can be easily found in the control tower building. All of the current military display items will be moved from the museum to the control tower building. A bonus to opening the compound for free use by area civic groups is that people can browse around and view all of the military displays. “We are going to encourage as many people to come tour the compound as possible,” Striegler said. The Curtis Field Guard Shack sits directly in front of the original control tower building, like it did in the 1940s. A large storage container left on the museum property when it assumed ownership will be used for storage. Plans have been made to paint it olive drab (military colors, of course) and the front of the container with have a 10-foot metal awning on it. The museum also plans to embellish the container with a mural of a D-15 trainer, the type aircraft most used at Curtis Field during that era. “We’re building our own ‘paint-by-number’ kit for it,” Striegler explained. “It’s going to be about 15- feet long and eight feet high.” A six-foot high chain link fence will enclose the new additions. It will be a pure military compound for all practical purposes, complete with a flagpole in the middle of the grounds. “The whole project is to be a tribute to the 21 servicemen who died at the field during training,” he said. “It sounds terrible that 21 pilots were killed, but that is a really low accident rate. They really must have had a first-class training operation. “There were 10,000 men trained at Curtis Field over a four-and-a-half-year period. Most of those men went to Europe, and according to newspaper articles of that era, 35 percent of those were casualties and never came home. “The whole idea of this project is to save as much of the history of these structures as possible,” Striegler added. “A lot of our young people don’t have any idea what went on during that time and what happened right here in our backyard.” Those who make it to the top of the control tower, once completed, will be treated to a birds-eye view of the downtown Brady area. “You can see all over town from there,” said Striegler. “In fact, if it wasn’t for the museum directly in front, you could see most all of Brady. It’s going to be unique to the whole State of Texas’ maybe the country’to have a control tower in the backyard of a historical museum. “That building is the most signature structure of Curtis Field, and the same thing could be said of the POW Guard Shack. There is so much history wrapped up in these two fields. More than 3,000 German prisoners were temporary residents at the POW camp with only a handful of guards to oversee the operation’19 of which are still living today, according to Striegler. “We need to teach our young people today the sacrifices that were made during that era, and I think this is an excellent way for them to learn about history. Unfortunately, these things seem remote to kids of today.” The Heart of Texas Historical Museum always welcomes both group and individual tours. School districts have always been welcome to visit the facility, and the museum will accommodate them “day or night,” according to Striegler. We truly hope that this project might stimulate more interest from area schools. “One of the main reasons that we are doing this, in addition to honoring our servicemen, is to try and make our youngsters understand that this could all happen again,” he said. “The Bible says, ‘If you don’t know the past, you’re doomed to repeat it.’ And we don’t need to do that. “We want to try to instill a sense of patriotism’not for any particular party’but for the nation and try to recapture that spirit that was out there for so many years. “Our veterans, past and present, are the real reason we live in a free country, and we must never forget the sacrifices they made for us,” said Striegler. ” This building will be dedicated to the men and women who trained here, to the 21 who died here and to all of the veterans of all branches of the service from McCulloch County and the rest of the nation. Surely, God will smile on this project and will help us teach our children the importance of ‘Duty, Honor and Country.'” The goal for completion is to have the compound and control tower building in usable condition by the July 4 holiday. When the project is complete, the museum plans to host a dedication ceremony, complete with confederate aircraft, troops from Fort Hood and the commanding officer from San Angelo’s Goodfellow Air Force Base. “It will take a lot of work to bring it all together, but I think we have a pretty good attraction to pull in those people,” said Striegler. “This has been a dream of mine for 12 long years. There have been a bunch of us at the museum trying to bring this project this far. We have had wonderful cooperation and a lot of people working on it. It was a struggle to get that building, but we finally did it after a lot of negotiating.” One of the major obstacles the museum has had to overcome has been funding the project. With no grant money awarded to the museum, the board has relied on careful hoarding of income over the past few years and donations from the McCulloch County Industrial Foundation, private estates, the G. Rollie White Trust, the Strieglers and other individuals who choose to remain anonymous. “We’re working with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and hope to be able to get some grant money from them,” added Striegler. When the project is complete, the museum expects the preservation to cost over $80,000. The Heart of Texas Historical Museum is a 501 ( c ) 3 corporation and all donations to this project are tax deductible. “We need financial help to complete this large project in a timely fashion, and your donations would be greatly appreciated,” he said. What began as a three-story jail built to house criminals of long ago has been serving its purpose as the Heart of Texas Historical Museum for a number of years now. Today, its purpose still remains the same’only broadened in scope to pay tribute to not only the military of our past but the one of our future, as well. The history within the walls of the museum and the history soon to be confined within the military compound will continue to be elements which make the museum a prime tourist attraction for McCulloch County. Donations can be sent to the museum at P.O. Box 48, Brady, Tex. 76825.

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