City Museum with Unique Concept Draws Over 6000 a Year to South End Park

‘Biggest Little Military Museum’ Continues to Grow
By Kim Ledoux, Contributing Writer

A volunteer and museum treasurer for the Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Military Museum in New Bedford, points to the route taken by the 212th National Guard Unit during World War II. The museum had record numbers of visitors last year. At top, a tank used in Exercise Tiger is a popular attraction at the museum. Photos by Kim Ledoux/Standard-Times

NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Scott W. Lang calls it “the biggest little military museum in the country.”
And the numbers show that more people than ever before are visiting the Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Military Museum to learn about the fascinating military history of New Bedford and surrounding towns.
“The volunteers are a tremendous group of people who sacrifice their time for what they believe in,” Lang said. “They are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and I just feel that I see something new every time I go there.
“It is a great place to take people from out of town when you want to show them the area.”
Last year, there were more than 6,000 visitors, up from 5,000 in 2008 — and those were just the ones who happened to sign the guest book. Last year, almost 900 were from out of state and 67 were from other countries.
Opened in 2004, the museum is on the same grounds where Fort Taber once stood and is within viewing distance of Fort Rodman, a stone fortress built during the Civil War.
A dedicated staff of 31 volunteers works in shifts to guide guests through thousands of artifacts and photos from the Revolutionary War up through the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq that have been donated or loaned to the museum by area residents.
“It really is a unique concept to have a museum that tells the stories of those who served from a particular area. … In many ways, it is both a museum and a memorial,” said museum treasurer Donald Moss. “There are so many stories here from local families. … Every day is Veterans Day here.”
A popular attraction is a tank on the property used in Exercise Tiger, a massive training exercise off the coast of Great Britain prior to D-Day.
During the maneuvers, troops were attacked by nine German E-boats that had evaded Allied patrols, costing the lives of 749 servicemen, a number of whom were from this area.
“The men thought the flotation devices were supposed to go around their waists instead of around their chest. It flipped them over and they drowned. Because of Operation Tiger, the United States learned a lot and D-Day, as horrible as it was, went a lot smoother,” Moss said.
Honoring present-day veterans, volunteer Robert Martin was on hand to share photos and information about his son, Lt. Col. Christopher R. Martin. The Bishop Stang High School graduate is an Army surgeon who has worked on the front lines and is now stationed at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“I have toured the whole hospital. It is hard to see floor after floor of wounded. … I couldn’t be more proud of my son,” Martin said.
Other fascinating exhibits include a statue made by a German prisoner of war who was being held at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, Samurai swords, artifacts from a German submarine retrieved from area waters by diver Brad Luther, and photos and biographies of every local serviceman who was killed in Vietnam.
During a tour, Moss and other volunteers told richly-detailed stories about each aging photo, uniform and piece of memorabilia as if it were from a member of their own family.
Even items that the museum does not have room to display are carefully catalogued in a storeroom piled high with numbered boxes.
Since space is at such a premium, the 31 museum volunteers are ecstatic about an 1,800-square-foot expansion already under way that will double the size of the building and allow for more display area. The addition, scheduled to open this year, is being made possible by a $50,000 donation from Bank of America.
City workers, teens from YouthBuild, veterans organizations, students from Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School and others are expected to assist with interior construction and painting.
Donations for the purchase of materials can be mailed to 1000 C. Rodney French Blvd., New Bedford, MA 02744. There is also a need for mannequins to display uniforms.
The museum is open daily from 1-4 p.m. Admission is free.
February 02, 2010
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