METRO: War is Hell

2 Mar

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We’ve heard the stories, learned the historical facts in school and have watched Hollywood’s version of the wars involving the United States. Still many people feel disconnected to this part of our history. My parents were very young children during WWII, they had no memories or personal stories to share with me. You may not know it but if you live in Michigan, specifically the metropolitan Detroit area, you are surrounded by the historic Arsenal Of Democracy, it’s extremely impressive. Michigan-made items for the military were made here from 1900 to the present. A visit to the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society Museum in Eastpointe really provides insight and perspective on the impact Michigan industry has made in civil defense. Let’s check out the museum….

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We enter the single-story building on Stephens, the lobby area doubles as a gift shop, a woman welcomes us, we pay our admission fee then begin to wander the museum. The 11,000 sq ft space is packed with machinery, vehicles, showcases and wall cases filled with artifacts. It has an old-fashioned feel to me, there are no buttons to push, no flashing lights or multi-media displays. What you will find is an amazing collection of equipment, weapons, uniforms, posters and photographs all carefully curated and detailed by placards. Exhibits begin during WWI, the US was only involved in the conflict from 1917-1919, at that time most airplane propellers were made of wood,  15 Grand Rapids furniture companies were involved in manufacturing aircraft parts. The Fisher Body plant on Fort St built the DeHavilland DH-4, the only American-manufactured aircraft to see combat in France.

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Right away I notice items from aircraft to artillery bear names like Packard, Ford, Dodge, Fisher Body. I follow the timeline along the left wall going from exhibit to exhibit, several cases display Michigan products built for WWII, it’s strange to see a manual for a Oldsmobile 37mm M4 automatic gun or an ammunition can made by Cadillac. The auto manufacturers were huge contributors; Ford made gliders, Packard built marine engines, Fisher Boat Works made the PT3 and 4, GM was the largest producer of the M1919 .30 caliber machine gun during WWII. De foe shipbuilding in Bay City built Navy and Coast Guard ships, Chris Craft built landing craft, Borg Warner made the LVT Bushmaster, Clark Equipment (Buchanan MI) built the Airborne Bulldozer. Canvas goods came from Alpena, Wolverine provided boots, magnifiers were made in Lansing, see what I mean? It’s astounding.

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Throughout the space wartime posters hang on walls (check out the one featuring Joe Louis), engines and machinery sit out in the open, vignettes give us an idea of how campsites and bunkers were set up, complete with actual weapons. There’s a tent with a wood floor and a low wood wall that sort of pops out of a crate, we see bedrolls, footlockers and actual telegrams informing loved ones there soldier will not be coming home. The items are all real, donated to the museum, I have mixed emotions seeing everything, I can’t imagine what it was like being so far from home under such dire circumstances. The steering wheel of a Jeep has “flower power” carved into it reminding us of the real people who drove it.

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It’s just a short drive to Dragonmead Microbrewery in Warren, time for lunch. The entrance takes us directly into the bar area, a left turn leads us to dining tables. It’s a Saturday, the place is busy but we are greeted quickly by our server. The beer menu is huge, overwhelming, extensive. Styles include American, English, German, Belgian, Czech, Norwegian, Scottish and Russian, each using the grain from the country in which the style originated. We selected a flatbread in a minute, the beer took longer…. I decide on the Woody’s Perfect Porter, an English-style Ale, it’s good. Kris picks Under The Kilt Wee Heavy, a Scottish-style Ale he really enjoyed. The Wizard flatbread pizza comes with BBQ pizza sauce, BBQ chicken, bacon, caramelized onions, 3 kinds of cheese, drizzled with ranch dressing, yum! It’s the perfect size for two of us to share. 

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Keeping with the theme, we drive to St. Clair Shores to the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum, open since May 2014, this is our first visit. The museum specializes in military vehicles and equipment from WWII to the current War on Terror. Here, again, the emphasis is on the Detroit automakers and suppliers. The 10,000 sq. ft. industrial building  display’s about 50% of the vehicle collection at a time, encouraging visitors to return. Showcases hold Italian editions of the Stars and Stripes newspaper, the Detroit Times, telegrams, medals and patches. We see and officers field dining set, a percolator, trays used by soldiers, rations and Colgate toothpaste. Black and white photos hang on the walls, there’s one of the 10,000th Chrysler-built tank from July 20, 1943. 

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A large tent looks as though it’s set up for a strategy session, a projector faces a screen, a typewriter waits to write a message, an army green bicycle rests nearby. Mannequins are dressed in uniform; a paratrooper hangs from the ceiling, oversize military vehicles are at rest, engines are on display as well as a massive 1942 Sperry searchlight. We check out the 1942 Cadillac limo that transported General Dwight D Eisenhower, the 1941 M2 Halftrack and the 1953 Dodge M37 . Vehicles are not roped off, a young boy eagerly climbs up into the Jeep. Both the Chrysler Corp. tank arsenal in Warren and the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti were built specifically to increase production; here men and women assembled planes, tanks, Jeeps, trucks and weaponry. It really is a reminder of what a powerhouse of manufacturing this area used to be.

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Be proud of our state, without Michigan’s Arsenal of Democracy many of us would likely not be here today reading this, and be thankful for all of those that have and continue to serve our country, land of the free because of the brave…

3 Responses to “METRO: War is Hell”

  1. Joe March 2, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

    Hi Renee, that was neat!

  2. Mike Ricketts March 2, 2016 at 8:51 pm #

    Nice. My kinda stuff.

  3. Linda Marinovich March 3, 2016 at 5:18 pm #

    Your blog is totally amazing Renee!! I enjoy your writings and photos:)

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