Visit Fort Walla Walla Museum and Kirkman House Museum to discover a rich array of wartime artifacts and stories focused on the effects the two World Wars had on the citizens of the Walla Walla Valley.
Stories, artifacts and photos will connect you to the local people who served in Europe and in the Pacific, and who endured the challenges of wartime at home.
See hundreds of artifacts from local veterans that include uniforms, a gas mask, cannons, combat weapons, battle flags, ration books, letters, diaries, and much more. Each museum covers varied aspects of the wars including presentations on the Women’s Army Corps, German prisoners at the Fairgrounds, and the Walla Walla Army Airbase.
Don’t miss it. The exhibit is on now.
Sometimes hard work pays off, and sometimes you just get lucky.
Fort Walla Walla Museum staff and volunteers were working on our recently opened “Walla Walla and the World Wars” exhibit and having a hard time finding much material to display relating to the Walla Walla Army Air Base, McCaw Army Hospital and the German POWs held at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds. Then we received an unsolicited email.
When community members were creating the Museum in the 1950s and 1960s, they were not interested in collecting World War II material because it was too recent to be considered history. But for the past decade we have been eagerly seeking artifacts, photos and stories related to connections between the Walla Walla area and the second World War.
Now, back to that email. A woman from Hawaii wrote us in the hope of finding a permanent home for some of her late father’s things. I don’t believe we’d ever gotten a donation from Hawaii before, but as we all know, people relocate. It turns out this woman’s dad had been a photographer at the Walla Walla Army Air Base during the war, and had sent photos home. Jackpot! I contacted her immediately.
We received a small box in the mail a few days later. Filling a hole in our collection we’d long sought to fill, this donation included around 175 wonderful images of the Air Base, related social events, downtown, local USO and officers’ club, and more.
Technical Sgt. Bill Mach was one of four photographers for the 357th Bomb Group stationed in Walla Walla from 1942 to early 1944. He was married at the Air Base chapel, and there are photos of Bill and his bride Henryetta in this grouping. Fortunately for us, his daughter wanted a legacy.
With the help of Museum volunteer Tye Watts, enlargements of more than 70 of these photos are now exhibited. One of my favorite images from this donation is that of a soldier on a motorcycle with a dog mascot in the sidecar. The pooch’s collar is a Military Police armband. There also are shots of medal presentation ceremonies, visiting dignitaries and a variety of aircraft. We are pleased to be able to share these images as part of our much larger exhibit, and hope visitors will be able to identify local residents included in the photos.
How to help
About a month ago we got another email from our new Hawaiian friend. She apologized because she had not known that “the best” photos had years ago been placed in an album that had just turned up. She stated the images were already on their way to us.
I thought the first batch was fantastic; Bill did not bother to send home duds. The second batch did indeed have a bunch of great additions to help us tell the story of what was happening in Walla Walla during the war. A few of the images really stood out to me. One is a picture of two female mechanics working on a plane. If Rosie the Riveter was building planes on the west side of our state, was her cousin Mary the Mechanic keeping these planes in the air at the Walla Walla base?
This group also included several pictures from McCaw Army Hospital, which extended from the former Blue Mountain Mall site eastward to beyond Avery Street.
The Fort Walla Walla Museum collection includes a 75 mm French World War I cannon that saw a second life at the Walla Walla Army Air Base. The gun was fired to wake service personnel in the morning and to put them to bed at night. This small cannon was demilitarized and sold as surplus years ago. The buyer gave this piece to the Museum, where it has been displayed ever since. The second batch of photos has a picture of this cannon at the air base.
A selection of the most-recently acquired images is scheduled for exhibit beginning at Fort Walla Walla Days, this Saturday and Sunday. Other parts of the exhibit feature a WWI Marine and submariner from Walla Walla County. The U.S. only had a handful of submarines during the war, and very few men served in this capacity. There is also material associated with the 146th Field Artillery, which gathered at Fort Walla Walla and served in several major campaigns during WWI.
Other WWII material includes weapons, uniforms and war souvenirs associated with multiple men and women who served in defense of our nation. This exhibit is in conjunction with “Walla Walla Goes to War” at the Kirkman House Museum, where many WWII stories are shared, including the German POWs at the Fairgrounds.
If you have material relating to Walla Walla’s Army Air Base, McCaw Army Hospital or German POWs, please contact Laura Schulz at Fort Walla Walla Museum, 509-525-7703 or Laura@fwwm.org.
To learn more about Walla Walla’s connections to the World Wars, visit Fort Walla Walla Museum and Kirkman House Museum.