The Truman Library hopes to tell more of the Korean War story from the perspective of the men and women who served in it.
It’s taken on a collection of wartime items from soldiers and sailors, doctors and nurses, and others. It also includes more than 10,000 photographs.
“What we think is exciting about this collection is it describes the lives of Americans” serving in the war, said Sam Rushay, the museum’s supervisory archivist.
The museum now has the collection of the Korean War National Museum in Springfield, Ill., which closed last August and later contacted the Truman Library. (The Springfield museum is not to be confused with the Center for the Study of the Korean War, which has been open in Independence for many years.)
Monday was the 68th anniversary of the beginning of the war, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Two days later, Truman ordered the intervention of U.S. troops, who were joined by allies from around the world. Truman called Korea his toughest decision during his eight years as president.
So the museum chose Monday to briefly showcase some new items in its collection. Among them were an Army first-aid kit, photos and two uniforms. One was worn by Ernestine “Ernie” Ann Wagner. She joined the Women’s Air Force in 1949 and was one of more than 100,000 women who served in Korea. Another is the Army fatigues worn by George Lee Parks.
There’s other stuff: a stretcher, a triage matt, a walkie-talkie, gas masks, a P.O.W. uniform. And a field telephone so large you’d need a Jeep to haul it around.
“We call it our 1952 cell phone,” said Natalie Walker, museum/archives technician.
Items also tell the story of an American and its military in transition. Two years before the war – 70 years ago next month – Truman had ordered an end to racial segregation on the military.
“We have photos that represent desegregation in the military,” Rushay said.
The museum tells the stories of various tumultuous events during Truman’s years in office, from Potsdam and the dropping of the atomic bombs at the end of World War II to the wild swings of fortune followed by grinding stalemate on the battlefield in Korea. But Walker said much of the museum’s current presentation of the war is at the policy level.
That’s likely to change. The museum is set to close in early 2019 for a major expansion and renovation, reopening in the spring of 2020. Some aspects of the Truman story, such as the Korean War through the eye of those who fought it, will get a fuller telling.
“We have a lot of great stuff,” Walker said, “and it’s going to lend itself to great exhibits.”
IF YOU GO
The Truman Library is at 500 West U.S. 24 in Independence. It’s open 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 Sundays. Admission includes all exhibits and is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $3 for children ages 6 to 15, and free for children 5 years and under. The library also has permanent exhibits on Truman’s presidency and his life and times, and it’s major special exhibit this year is about Truman’s service as an artillery captain in World War I. Also, the Oval Office replica is popular. Visitors also can pay their respects to Harry and Bess Truman, who are buried on the library grounds. For more information, call 800-833-1225.