Old Brig captures a Seneca memory
|At left: Remembering: Florence McKee displays then and now portraits of men who trained at the US Naval Training Center. They are from left, husband Paul McKee, Steve Bull and Murry Aldrich.||
Memorial, ahoy! Steve Bull, who led the museum effort, applies touches to a display at "The Brig" Memorial Museum at Sampson State Park It was built by volunteers over three years
|Sampson museum honors 411,429||9/14/95||by Doris Wolf Staff Writer|
Romulus --"Kilroy was here" is the message World War II soldiers wrote on rocks and buildings in Europe as they fought for freedom.
Tomorrow, members of the Sampson World War II Navy Vets will update the slogan, opening "The Brig" Memorial Museum at Sampson State Park here.
Constructed by volunteers over three years with $600,000 raised mostly from donations and the sale of memorials, the museum honors the 411,429 man and women who attended the US Naval Training Station between Oct. 20, 1942 and Aug. 24, 1945.
The self-sufficient city that "changed boys to men" in about eight weeks has vanished. In its place are green rolling hills sloping gently to Seneca Lake. That's what greeted the 48 men who trained at Sampson when they met there in 1987 for a reunion. They resolved to do something to tell the world that they had been there.
They organized the Sampson World War II Vets, and organization that today has more than 4,100 members. The veterans embarked on a three-pronged project to say, "We were here. It was real," said Steve Bull of Seneca Falls.
The blue and gold historic marker on 96A and bronze statue of the waving sailor at the entrance to Sampson State Park were early accomplishments. In 1992, the sate Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation granted permission to convert the former brig into a museum. Bull agreed to lead the effort. " It's been a hectic summer of 12 hour days," he said as he put the finishing touches on a display showing the contents of a sailor's ditty bag. "But it it's been worth it."
The brig is one of the few buildings remaining at the 2,500 - acre training center constructed in seven months at a cost of $50 million and called one of the biggest engineering feats of its time. Because of the wartime shortage of steel and other materials most of Sampson's 400 buildings were made of wood.
Today's visitor can only wonder what life must have been like for the 16-17 year old farm boys, many of whom had never seen a boat bigger than a cabin cruiser. "I was in awe of everything," recalls Bull in an interactive exhibit at the museum.
Exhibits are being assembled by Steve O'Malley, collections curator for the Geneva Historical Society. "I feel very humble working around these people and listening to their stories," he said.
Paul; McKee of Ovid spent 12 weeks at Sampson, but four years as a volunteer, donating more than 1,000 hours to the brig project, He and his wife Florence have parked their camper at Sampson for the summer for the past three years. A quiet man, McKee said the work has been a labor of love.
"It's a memory thing," said Florence McKee. "people reminisce, meet strangers and become close friends. Everyone has common ground."
More than 1,000 Sampson vets are expected to attend the opening ceremonies, part of their annual three-day reunion.
The museum will remain the property of the state Parks Department. It is expected to be a major Navy and state tourist attraction, said Sampson vet Charles Abrams of Cranston, RI. "This is so the families in the second and third generation can realize what happened here," he said. "We want you to know the accomplishments that were done, to remember the 411,429 who went through here."