June 9, 2011

Maine military history to be shared

A veteran and longtime collector of war memorabilia prepares to open The Maine Military Museum and Learning Center in South Portland.

By Trevor Maxwell tmaxwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Some might look at the faded green jumpsuit and see a plain old Air Force uniform.

click image to enlarge

Lee Humiston will welcome state officials and hundreds of guests, including former prisoners of war, at the grand opening of the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center in South Portland on Saturday. Here he stands outside a replica of a North Vietnamese prisoner of war cell he created from artifacts he had collected.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

The hundreds of items on display at the new Maine Military Museum and Learning Center in South Portland include Navy and Army uniforms from World War I.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Lee Humiston sees the pilot who once wore it.

"This belonged to Dick Manning. He lives here in South Portland now," Humiston said Wednesday, stopping at a row of uniformed mannequins in the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center.

"He landed at a Green Beret outpost in Vietnam. They came under heavy fire," Humiston said. "There were 11 men and they all ran into a bunker, but a rocket came in behind them. Eight of them died, and the blast destroyed one of Dick's arms."

It's one story among thousands at the museum, and Humiston, its founder and curator, can tell you almost all of them with a single look at a flight helmet, a patch, a news clipping or a silver POW bracelet.

Just four years ago, Humiston's assortment of artifacts, writings and memorabilia was kept mostly in his house.

Since then, the 72-year-old Air Force veteran has been on a collecting spree, taking in relics of Maine's military history. Thanks to several donors and his key financial benefactor, Gary Crosby of South Portland, Humiston now has a completely renovated, 12,000-square-foot space to share that history with the public.

On Saturday, Humiston will welcome hundreds of guests from around the state and the country as the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center celebrates its grand opening.

Gov. Paul LePage and Secretary of State Charlie Summers are expected to attend, as are nine former prisoners of war from Vietnam and World War II. The ribbon-cutting at 1 p.m. will be preceded by a procession of more than 100 motorcycle riders from Rolling Thunder, the Patriot Guard, Combat Veterans and the American Legion Riders.

"What's amazing to me is the friends I've made in the last four years. People are so kind, and they keep bringing me things. They want to know that those memories will be honored," Humiston said Wednesday as he made final preparations for Saturday's ceremony. Over the past few months he has been working 16 to 17 hours a day, six or seven days a week.

"I just wish my parents were alive to see it," he said. "Maine has got a very important military history that needs to be shared."

Crosby, a real estate investor, bought the VFW building and property on Peary Terrace for about $700,000 in 2009. He gave the building to Humiston for the museum, with Humiston's pledge that half of the building would remain a VFW hall. The other half, most of which was an old bingo hall and ballroom, has been renovated for the museum and offices.

"It's beautiful," said Richard Skillin of South Portland, who visited Humiston at the museum Wednesday.

Skillin served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, flying 24 missions over Germany and what was then Czechoslovakia. On display at the museum is a photograph of Skillin and his crew.

"It's terrific to have a place like this," Skillin said. "Lee has done a marvelous job with it."

Humiston has hundreds of other items, including more than 300 service uniforms, that he plans to rotate into the displays.

One of Humiston's main goals is to bring in middle school and high school students from around the state. Last week, Scarborough High's junior class was the first to visit.

Humiston runs the museum as a nonprofit organization. He accepts donations but said he will not charge for admission. He covers some operating costs through sales of $50 brass plates that line some of the museum's walls. The plates are inscribed with the names of veterans and their service history.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

World War II weapons and insignia are displayed at the new museum.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

  


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