Explosions rattle the wooden benches as Chinese soldiers stream toward you.
Just as you’re being overrun, a voice yells, "We’re coming through!" The firefight quiets down and you have survived another night in Korea.
In 1950, you might have stepped out of the bunker into a cold, dangerous night. Today, you step out into the safety of the exhibit area telling the story of the soldiers who fought in Korea,
Experiences like this are just one aspect of a $2.5 million exhibit, "The Soldier Experience," opening today at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Middlesex Township. The grand opening of the exhibit will be held from 4 to 6 p.m., but the exhibit will be open throughout the weekend. Living veterans featured in the exhibit, as well as re-enactors representing earlier soldiers, will be at the opening ceremony.
Col. Matt Dawson, director of the Army Heritage and Education Center, said the exhibits combine documents with photographs and other artifacts to tell a story.
"What we hope is that as people walk through the museum, they will find something that they are interested in," he said.
He added that he hopes people will then take that interest further by using the center’s collections to research it.
John Leighow, director of the Army Heritage Museum, said the experience, which took a little more than two years to come together, exhibits items in the center’s collection in a way that allows visitors to understand the Army through the eyes of a soldier on the ground.
The experience begins in the living room where a soldier makes the decision to enlist and continues through basic training before expanding into several sections under the title, "The American Soldier in War and Peace," which explores the Army story from the Spanish-American War to the present.
"In this exhibit, you’re going to see a number of different techniques to help people learn," Leighow said.
One prominent technique is interactivity. The interactive elements range from simple — a dog-tag scan card that lets visitors follow a single soldier’s story — to complicated — a night-time parachute drop.
The drop simulates a jump from 700 feet, which Leighow admits isn’t a great height. But there’s a good reason for that. "The reason it’s low is because the fellows floating down, you don’t want them to be targets for long," he said.
The drop lifts the visitors up just a few feet then slowly lowers them back down over the course of about 45 seconds. Visitors have some directional control to help them land in the center of a field among the simulated flak and explosions from enemy fire. Leighow said different scenarios are included in the program to indicate what could happen to a soldier upon landing.
Each section also contains a context piece featuring items used by a soldier to explain what was happening at the time. Those pieces can range from the expected, like the uniform and gear of an American soldier serving in Europe during World War II, to the unusual, like the prosthetic leg used by Gen. Frederick N. Franks, adorned with stickers representing the companies he commanded in Desert Storm.
AHEC’s own collection was essential to restoring one eye-catching exhibit piece — a Renault FT 17 tank that dominates the World War I section.
While he was restoring the tank the conservator discovered that the ball bearing system that allowed the turret to move was rusted. He called the center asking for advice. Leighow said they went to their own collection, found a manual for the tank and gave the conservator the information he needed to make the turret fully functional.
The experience ends with a short film that includes veterans telling their own stories. Veterans visiting the exhibit have the opportunity to fill out a survey documenting their experience to add to the center’s collection.
Dawson said he looks forward to seeing visitors interact with the experience. "We think it’s going to be great not only for the public but also for soldiers and veterans," he said.
The grand opening of this permanent exhibit is from 4-6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9. There is free parking and refreshments will be served.
Visitors may also view the exhibit during the center’s general operating hours, which are Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The facility is located at 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle. For more information, call 717-245-3972 or visit www.usahec.org.
Posted earlier on Cumberlink.com:
Explosions rattle the wooden benches as Chinese soldiers stream toward you. Just as you’re being overrun, a voice yells, “We’re coming through!” The firefight quiets down and you’ve survived another night in Korea.
In 1950, you might have stepped out into a cold, dangerous night. Today, you step out into the safety of the exhibit area dedicated to the soldiers who fought in Korea,
Experiences like these are just one aspect of a $2.5 million exhibit, “The Soldier Experience,” opening Friday at the Army Heritage and Education Center. The exhibit traces the soldier’s experience from the living room in which they decide to join the Army, through basic training and into the soldier’s experiences in peace and war from the Spanish American War to the present-day global war against terror.
A grand opening of the exhibit will be held from 4-6 p.m. on Nov. 9, but the exhibit will be open throughout the weekend.