Fort Devens Museum

Archived Museum News: Sept 2004

Devens Museum Guards the Legacy of Fort Devens

September 29, 2004

By C. David Gordon,
Copyright Nashoba Publications

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DEVENS — For more than 75 years, American soldiers fit and ready to preserve and protect their nation, marched through the gates of Fort Devens, once to train and again to serve. The military installation, first as Camp Devens and then as Fort Devens, became home to thousands of soldiers from across the country as they prepared for service. Capturing and preserving this crucial American history — and the full spectrum of emotions and experiences sensed there — is the resolve of the Devens Historical Museum.

More than 150 people gathered at the Devens Conference Center Friday night to take part in the museum's annual meeting and dinner. Speakers shared the museum's successes to date, while introducing a new and central player in the effort — new executive director, Ian Meisner.

Meisner assumed the task of telling his audience where the museum is going and asking for help in achieving the goal.

The next step of development, he said, is mounting a functioning museum, provided with space to set up displays and offering educational programs about the history of that tract of ground now simply called Devens. In time will come necessary renovations to the permanent buildings the museum has, former Civilian Military Training Corps buildings. The Shriver Job Corps, the Carpenters' union and other organizations have already signified their desire help.

Meisner spoke of three ways people can help move the museum forward: "passing the word on as to what we're doing," he said, volunteering assistance to help get the museum opened "as we develop exhibits and a capital campaign," and donating artifacts "to replace the collection the Army removed" with Fort Devens closure, plus funding.

"We owe it as a community to maintain this important historical legacy," Meisner pointed out.

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Robert Culver, president and CEO of MassDevelopment, secured one important detail in the museum's future. He announced his agency's decision to provide the museum with a no cost lease at 94 Jackson Road where the museum can set up its displays and programs in the period after closure of Revere Hall, and the opening of renovated permanent buildings.

Culver said MassDevelopment maintains a "commitment that the museum is a part of the development of our [Devens] community so that the past of Devens is not forgotten."The excitement of the year just passed was described by museum Executive Vice President Bert Tompkins. He spoke of an "increase in the museum's visibility" through displays of Devens military artifacts and memorabilia in area locations and through an increase in publicity.

In this past year, he said, the museum acquired "a great number" of new artifacts and memorabilia — 64 donated and others purchased for display. In addition, a Board of Governors has been established with a number of key committees formed and functioning.

Key too, Tompkins said, has been Meisner's appointment. He described the new executive director as having "a deep and abiding passion in military history," who has served in the U.S. Army for four years, attaining the rank of captain, and has been an advisor on development and growth.

In introducing guest speaker Congressman Martin T. Meehan, master of ceremonies and museum president, Frank Hartnett Sr., stressed the Congressman's strong support and close attention to Fort Devens.

Meehan called the annual meeting "a great kick-off" for the development of the museum.

"The museum will be a symbol of America's historic struggle to preserve our liberties at home and defend against threats from afar," he said. He reminded his listeners of the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington earlier in the summer, noting that Fort Devens "was a reception center for all draftees in New England."

The museum helps record the experiences of the many people who have served in the armed forces including those called upon to do so more recently, he stated. "For those we have lost, we should preserve their memories alongside the heroes that fell in wars past," Meehan said. "I'm excited to work with the museum's new executive director, Ian Meisner," who "has the passion and expertise to make this project a reality, and we're lucky to have him."

Col. (Ret.) Richard J. Kattar spoke about America's soldiers past, present and future from his experience as Fort Devens commander from 1979 to 1982.

"The question about the quality of the soldier [is] always out there," he said. From the 42,000 he helped train for the Army and his continuing observations, he said, "They're every bit as good today as they were in my years.

"Yet they are in harm's way," he said, speaking of "the terrible responsibility of soldiering." He said he gets "as emotional about the soldier of today as I do for my soldiers."

"We honor," he said, "not the hardware but the individual soldier."

"We need to hang onto our history, pay attention to it," he said. "It shall become a means to determine the character of our military." The museum, he said, is "one way of sharing what people suffered for."

A military museum, he noted, "needs to have community support." And part of that history is remembering what the Army has done for the local communities.

"I'm absolutely blown away by the development here," he said of today's Devens. "The character has changed from being one of training installations to a fine new community. You should be proud," he exclaimed.