Polson museum building new military barracks

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The Miracle of America Museum in Polson recently inherited a building that is now in the process of being recreated as a World War II U.S. Army Air Corps barracks.

While its numerous exhibits cover the spectrum of local, regional and national history, the Miracle of America Museum has always displayed a wealth of military memorabilia and equipment.

The 16-by-20-foot building was saved from demolition and Gary Dupuis of Showboat Cinemas facilitated the donation.

The winter weather held off and, on the spur of the moment, Matt Whetzel Concrete Construction Co. of Arlee not only poured a slab for it but also did the job as a total donation.

Bob Lassila of Great Falls happened to have an era-correct set of military bunk beds which he donated along with an era-correct mattress. Gil Mangels, owner of Miracle of America, had a second correct mattress, but in the museum’s spring newsletter he says he could use another Army blanket, if anyone has one to donate.

Footlockers, laundry bags, uniforms, shaving kits and numerous other related things have been sorted out of the main museum building to furnish the new barracks.

Although it isn’t going to be ready until spring, Mangels says he will show visitors inside by request ahead of its official opening.

The walls will be covered with art, military maps, and maybe even a couple of pin-ups (no nudes).

Mangels is also looking for leather flying jackets with or without artwork on them, as well an artist who could duplicate some period “nose art,” which was painted on many planes back in the day. Interestingly, the original building was probably built between 1913 and 1919. The inside studs were sheeted with 1-by-10-foot boards in early 1944 after having been insulated with newspapers, magazines and a 1943 calendar which surprisingly survived. These were discovered because the bottom two rows of interior sheeting had to be removed in order to temporarily stabilize the building by installing beams, and jack it high enough to get a trailer under it.

Mangels said that of particular interest was an article found concerning the security that Kerr Dam was placed under during World War II, as noted in this September 1942 article from the Flathead Courier. While a picture of the actual article is shown in the newsletter, the wording is as follows:

Young Men Shot At When They Go Near Kerr Dam

Monday evening, two young men created some excitement when they, after being warned, went down the river to a motor boat into the military zone near Kerr dam where visitors are prohibited.

They got as far as the pumping plant where the guard signaled for them to turn back. Apparently they didn’t take him seriously, for they persisted in going farther. Finally, the guard sent two warning shots toward the boat, and was just getting ready to shoot to kill when the driver turned the boat back.

The guard notified the police immediately and they picked up the men when they docked at Polson.

Police officials say that this is a serious offense and the government may prosecute to the limit, even though the Polson police let it pass merely as a warning to others who may try the same thing in the future.

Nicknamed “The Smithsonian of the West,” the Miracle of America Museum is open year round, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 36094 Memory Lane in Polson, south of the U.S. 93 and Montana 35 junction.

Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or community@dailyinterlake.com.

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