Two new exhibits at the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston celebrate the work of medics during World War II.
The dioramas were completed this winter and recreate wartime medical emergencies using mannequins and set design techniques. To build them, museum staff had to learn new skills, including moulage, woodworking and applying stucco.
One shows a medic administering morphine to a wounded dispatch rider in Carentan, France, after the D-Day invasion of 1944. The two figures are flanked by an early Army motorcycle. Bullet holes dot the walls behind them.
The diorama was assembled with the help of Maj. Tyler Reed and Anne-Marie Berglund, a museum volunteer who grew up in Normandy during World War II. She offered tips from memory about how to make the scene more realistic, and donated items from the time period.
The second scene, which takes place during the 1945 Battle of the Bulge, shows an injured soldier lying on an improvised stretcher. The stretcher is bolted, somewhat haphazardly, to the frame of an Army Jeep. This was common practice during WWII, when ambulances often proved too heavy or large to navigate certain terrain.
According to museum director George Wunderlich, it’s a testament to the handiwork of the WWII generation.
“So many guys in the Army at that time were mechanics, farmers, ranchers, professional welders, people from building trades. Some of the things that they made and welded to the fronts of these Jeeps were amazing,” he said.
For the Army Medical Department Museum, the two dioramas represent a major shift in approach. Wunderlich said he plans to incorporate more immersive experiences into the museum gallery since they have unique potential to reach visitors.
“We have to be able to get that visceral reaction in order to really have the experience stick,” he said. “If I’m just speaking to your brain, it's easy to forget. If I speak to your brain and your heart, you're not going to forget it. Not ever.”
The museum, which is open to both the public and Defense Department cardholders, also plays a role in teaching Army medical students.
The service requires them to complete coursework in the history and heritage of Army medicine.
On Jan. 25, some 450 students will receive training from Wunderlich at the museum. In order to establish good practices in the future, he said, it’s vital that they understand how military medicine has evolved over time.
“History is what we use in decision making: how to come up with good policy, what works, what doesn't. Heritage is belonging. That's what we use for morale, esprit de corps, team building.
“We [at the museum] do both. We’re the ones who say, ‘Look, you're all from different families, but you're in the Army now. Now that you're in the Army, your family is Army medicine. This is what your family has done. You are the inheritors of this rich heritage. This is why you should care.’”
Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.