SPECIAL EXHIBITS PROGRAM
Starting in 1978, I began a series of special exhibits.
The purpose of these exhibits was to create new and renewed interest in the Museum through the creation of these projects. During the Museum’s first years, there was very little visitation to the Museum, and we had very little publicity. During these opening years, the Vietnam War was still being waged, and there was some ambivalence by the community and residents in San Francisco to support a military museum. These exhibits were designed specifically to engage various communities to support the Museum and its mission.
The first of these temporary exhibits was "J'Ecoute: The Story of U.S. Army Signal Corps Telephone Operators in World War I." These were the very first soldiers who were women in the United States Army in non-nursing roles. They were the first women officers and served overseas in France and Germany during World War I, 1917-1919.
As a result of these special programs, visitation to the Museum increased considerably.
This was followed by a series of exhibits honoring the contributions of minorities and others to the United States Army. They included the exhibits:
“Ready and Forward: The Story of the African American Soldier in the U.S. Army from the Revolutionary War to the Present.” This exhibit was the first of its kind depicting Black soldiers in the military ever presented. It featured 200 unpublished photographs of African American soldiers being seen for the first time. The exhibit opened on February 13, 1980. The special honored guest for the opening of the ehxibit was Sargeant Lawrence Joel, who was an African American recipient of the Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. Sargeant Joel donated his uniform to the Ready and Forward exhibit. After being shown for a year, the exhibit traveled throughout the United States and continues to be shown nearly 40 years later.
"Hitler's Last Desperate Gamble: Honoring the 101st Army Airborne Division in the Battle of the Bulge." This exhibit honored the famed 101st Airborne Division in its fight against Hitler's army in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. The exhibit featured artifacts and photographs from this famous Division. The exhibit was sponsored by Belgium Today in honor of the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the modern Belgian consitution. The exhibit was dedicated by Crown Prince Albert of Belgium, who later became the King. The exhibit opened on April 24, 1979.
“Go For Broke: The Story of the Japanese American Soldier in World War II.” This exhibit, like its predecessor, Ready and Forward, was the first to tell the story of Japanese American soldiers of the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. The exhibit was created with the help of numerous Nisei (Japanese American) veterans living in California, the West Coast and Hawaii. The exhibit opened on March 6, 1981, with thousands of Japanese American veterans present for the opening day commemoration. The exhibit went on a national and international tour, and continues to be shown to this day. Ironically, the decision to imprison Japanese Americans was made by senior officers who were headquartered at the Presidio of San Francisco in 1941-1942. The exhibit told the story of this tragic mistake in American history. The exhibit served as a way of healing and reconciliation for Japanese Americans and became a powerful force in Japanese American civil rights and the redress movement. The exhibit was followed up with “Yankee Samurai: The Story of the Japanese American Soldier in the Military Intelligence Service.” This was a depiction of the Japanese American soldiers who fought as language specialists in the United States Army, 1941-1952. On November 1, 1941, the first Japanese American language school was created at Crissy Field on the Presidio of San Francisco. Senior Army officers claimed that this vital branch of the U.S. Army was responsible for saving countless Allied lives and shortening the war in the Pacific theater. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History adapted this exhibit to a semi-permanent installation at the Museum entitled, “A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution.” The artifacts, photographs, and other materials collected for the “Go For Broke” exhibit were utilized in this exhibit. The exhibit opened on September 17, 1987, as part of the Constitutional bicentennial commemoration in Washington, DC. It ran for more than 25 years at the Museum.
“The American Woman at War: The Story of Women in the United States Army from the Revolutionary War to Present.” This was a unique exhibit, which featured the role of women in all of the wars of America. The Museum had an outstanding collection of one-of-a-kind artifacts used by women veterans from the San Francisco Bay Area. The exhibit featured items from not only the Army but also the various auxiliary units serving our armed forces, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, YMCA/YWCA, and the Women’s Overseas Service League. The exhibit had items used by the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, the famed WASPs. The collection also featured the uniform of the first African American woman general, Hazel Johnson. The exhibit opened on Armistice Day, November 11, 1983, and ran for several years. The exhibit attracted wide audiences of visitors learning about American women in the armed forces.
“Bahala Na! The Story of the Filipino Soldier in the U.S. Army, 1898-1946.” This exhibit was created with the important support of Filipino American war veterans living on the West Coast and in California. There was widespread support for this exhibit and many veterans contributed their precious artifacts and archival material for the success of this presentation. The Philippine government also supported the exhibit and contributed important treasures from their collections. This was also the first time that Filipino American soldiers were depicted in an exhibit. The exhibit opened with thousands of Filipino American veterans attending commemorative events in 1985.
"OSS: Detachment 101." In 1985, we did a special exhibit honoring the U.S. Army special unit Detachment 101. This unit was a very special commando unit that served in Burma during World War II. It operated as a special forces unit, operating largely behind Japanese enemy lines. It is considered by many to be the prototype of the future Green Berets. It was commanded by Col. Ray R. Peers. Peers was later promoted to Lt. General and commanded two Corps in Vietnam. General Peers was an active member of the Fort Point and Army Museum Association and a big supporter of the Presidio Army Museum. It was General Peers who suggested to the Smithsonian Institution that they adopt the Go For Broke exhibit for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Please visit again soon, as we will be posting additional materials, including the Fort Point Salvo, on our Presidio Army Museum Special Exhibit Programs web page.