SAMPSON WWII NAVY MUSEUM
The Citizen, Auburn, New York
July 14, 2002
Ralph Milligan, volunteer at the Sampson World War II Navy Vets Memorial Museum in Romulus, watches over one of the display rooms, ready to answer visitors' questions. The museum, located in Sampson State Park, displays items which have all been donated by sailor who served during the war. Milligan is from Pennsylvania and spends one week a month volunteering at the museum with his wife, Sandy Milligan.
With the Periscope, visitors can get a 360 degree view of the outside of the museum
Deborah Moore of Waterloo checks out the periscope at the Sampson Museum. Waiting her turn is Manno's daughter, Lindsey Manno, 9.
Standing like a sentry guarding Seneca Lake, the Sampson World War II Navy Veterans Memorial Museum remains a vestige of the former naval center where more than 400,000 "boots"trained between 1942 and 1945.
The idea for the organization, and eventually the museum located in Sampson State Park, was conceived during a 1987 reunion when 48 Navy veterans met in the parking lot of the VFW in Waterloo. A plaque on the side of the building memorializes the gathering. "If it hadn't been for the help offered by the Waterloo VFW and New York state, there probably wouldn't be a museum," said Bill Andre, senior vice president of the museum.
Steve Bull, president, has been the catalyst guiding the group for seven years. Under his stewardship, members have raised more than a $500.000 through dues, raffles, memorials, gift-shop sales, and special dinners and luncheons.
Although the museum is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, members throughout the country raise money all year.
Projects to assemble the memorial began with the installation of a state historic marker at the park entrance. Then, flag poles were erected, followed by the commissioning of a nine-foot tall statue of a Sampson sailor sculpted by Felix W. de Weldon, . the artist who sculpted the lwo Jima memorial in Washington.
In 1992, the state gave the organization permission to convert the former brig, a naval term for jail, into a museum. But first, members had to reclaim the building from the raccoons and birds living there.
Trudy Fedden of Latham, recalls the early days when she was painting baseboards in the gift shop and saw a fast movement on the floor. She jumped up and dashed to the door, screaming. The men came running but the creature was long gone, she said, and now she prefers her work as a guide and official polisher of brass.
Volunteers removed trash, scrubbed, cleaned, worked on the roof, replaced glass in 82 windows, restored the cells, plastered and painted walls battleship gray, then installed carpeting, heating and air conditioning to protect artifacts.
"It's unique. We were serving here 60 years ago, and we are here again," Andre said.
The museum was dedicated in 1995. Among its many acquisitions are a wheel from a land-ship transport, a Sperry gyrocompass, a 40-millimeter training gun, a ship's bell, a ship's clock, mannequins in sailor uniforms and WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) uniforms, seven port-holes featuring miniature models of ships, hundreds of photographs of sailors and others of celebrities like Bob Hope entertaining at the base.
Big guns watch over the property. Sampson veteran Bill Grower used one similar to the 5-inch, 38-caliber now displayed, when he served on a merchant ship.
Recent additions include a buoy tender previously operated by the Coast Guard and a working periscope from the nuclear sub, the Ben Franklin. A memorial wall with names of sailors who trained at Sampson and were killed in action has been erected on the lake side of the museum. Bull is currently working on plans for a state veterans' cemetery, acquisition of torpedoes and another boat.
A crew of volunteers
But the museum is as dependent on its volunteers as it is on its artifacts. An example is Fred Stubenrod, who at 85, helps as a guide every other Saturday.
Among early volunteers were electricians Winfred Abplanalp of Phelps and the late Richard Baker who spent many days rewiring the building to bring it up to code. Betty Baker, although a widow, continues to serve the museum, as do others, like Rose Smith of Phelps.
A former beautician. Smith does a "bit of everything," but has a knack for restoring mannequin wigs. "Give me a curling iron and a brush and I can make a ragged wig beautiful," Smith said.
Maybel Meyers of Monroe, always volunteered with her late husband, Richard, an organization founder. She recently brought items from Florida to sell at a flea market to benefit the museum. Irene Nolda, auxiliary president, hosts luncheons in her home community of Mapleville, R.I., and combining donations, proceeds from raffles and dues, she forwarded $15,000 to the museum over the course of two years. She and her husband, Roland, brought three cases of donated wine to be raffled at the reunion. Nolda also builds wine racks.
Bill Grower of Boonville, a trustee and the assistant director of the museum, spends "most of the summer doing anything that needs to be done." His wife, Arline a photographer, captures important moments on film for the organization newsletter.
Florence McKee of Medina is in charge of volunteers, and sets up displays. McKee reported from the gift shop that the most popular sale items are Navy hats and sweatshirts.
With care, they may wear as well as Murray Aldrich's original navy blue, wool uniform. "Fifty-nine years old and it still fits," said the Cortland resident. modeling for visitors. But then. he only wears it one day a year.
A sailor who doesn’t swim?
Ralph Milligan ofTunkhannock, Pa., who volunteers one week a month at the museum, recalled the cold day he arrived as a "boot" in January 1945. "I couldn't get warm." he said. Under orders to learn how to swim, he spent every spare minute in the pool. When he completed training he was assigned to the USS Macon, a heavy cruiser.
Bob and Eva Jensen of Penn Yan work every other weekend at the museum. Eva, auxiliary secretary, staffs the gift shop. Displayed among the archives is a letter Bob donated. Sent to his parents by the Government in 1944, it notified them that their son was hit by shrapnel on Guam. For security reasons. he could not write home until he received a letter from his parents asking what happened. He was returned to action and served until discharged in 1946. He still carries shrapnel.
Friends of Sampson
Helen Cup and her husband, John, who live in Rochester, became interested in the Sampson Museum through friends in Florida. When they visited the park, Helen asked members to "Put us to work." They were invited to join Friends of Sampson. Among the Friends of Sampson are state and historical preservationists, bank and school representatives, area residents. Navy veterans, and Air Force veterans, who plan to open a museum dedicated to their members in another wing of the brig.
Today there are about 7,000 Sampson WWII Navy vet members, but with numbers dwindling rapidly, plans are under way for a trust fund to be administered by Friends of Sampson who will oversee the museum "down the road," Bull said.
Color Guard marches locally
The Sampson Color Guard, led by Grant Covill of Hammondsport, marches annually in the Waterloo Memorial Day Parade, always held May 30, the traditional Memorial Day. The Sampson "Salts," all at least 75 years old, have been participating since 1997.
"We dazzle them. It's a memory embedded since members took training 60 years ago," Covill said. Vets travel many miles for the parade. Answering the muster this spring were: Lloyd Harpham, Niagara Falls: Raymond Holt. Fulton: James Kelly, Middlesex; Roland Nolda, Mapleville, R.I.; Charles Ensey, Fruitland, Fla.; Harold Ernlaw, Norfolk: Frank Zammiello, Utica; William Landgraf. Cheektowaga; Thomas Stevens, Clifton Springs; Fred Gerow, Vernon: Robert Anthony, Fulton; Allan Mitchell. Seneca Falls, and Robert Donnelly, Dryden. Carl Ohmer, E. Springfield, Pa. was on his way when the brakes failed on his RV, he returned home, unable to answer the call this year.
Sampson State Park is on Route 96A in Romulus and the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Telephone (315) 585-6203. There is no charge, but a donation is requested.