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New exhibit at Lynden Pioneer Museum to explore WWII in Pacific Theater

A new exhibit about World War II in the Pacific is coming to Lynden Pioneer Museum.

“It’s the forgotten portion of World War II,” said Troy Luginbill, the museum’s director. “It was much more brutal than the European Theater.”

The exhibit, “Over the Beach; The WW2 Pacific Theater,” opens Wednesday, Oct. 1, and runs through May 1, 2015. A free open house for the exhibit and all of the museum will be 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 9.

The exhibit, mostly in the museum’s lower level, will include original letters, journals and photographs of local veterans; vintage war equipment; and six WWII vehicles. The vehicles and many of the other exhibit items are on loan from local collectors.

“These are pieces that have never before been exhibited in a museum,” Luginbill said.

The vehicles on display are a 1944 Weasel track vehicle, a 2.5-ton Studebaker truck, a 1945 Indian Chief military motorcycle, a 1941 Dodge ambulance, a 1943 Dodge weapons carrier and a 1942 military bicycle.

Wartime equipment on display includes uniforms, mine detectors, ammo, cargo boxes, weapons, backpacks and radios.

People visiting the exhibit will enter the display area through a recreation of the front end of a Higgins amphibious landing craft.

Larry McPhail, who lives east of Blaine on a 40-acre farm, is loaning the museum his Studebaker truck. Many of the 2.5-ton trucks were shipped to Russia through President Franklin Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program, but McPhail’s 1945 truck wasn’t sent overseas.

After the war, a fire department acquired the truck, and then a wheat farmer near Pullman bought it for use as a farm vehicle. A retired agriculture teacher became the next owner, and then McPhail bought it a few years ago with plans to restore it to its original 1945 condition.

“Mostly it’s going to be for show,” McPhail said.

The trucks were used to haul supplies, and had sideboards that folded down to become benches for soldiers.

“They were very effective for getting supplies to the front lines,” McPhail said.

While some people have donated vehicles and equipment, others are helping the museum gather information for displays. Mary Ann Reese of Maple Falls has been researching wartime documents, medal letters and handwritten accounts by service members, and forwarding what she finds to Luginbill for possible display.

“I love research,” she said. “I didn’t know there were so many women pilots in the war.”

Reese, a technical writer and editor, and her husband, Kevin, used to live in Snohomish County. They moved to Maple Falls three years ago, but have been volunteers at the Lynden museum even longer.

“We like history,” she said. “We immediately started volunteering at the museum even before we lived in Whatcom County.”

Luginbill said that with the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WWII approaching next year, it’s a good time to reflect on the island battles across the Pacific.

Museums often emphasize the fighting in Europe, he said. Reasons include Americans’ cultural ties to Europe, the preceding World War I set in Europe, and the immensity of the Holocaust. But Americans at the time had fewer connections to the Pacific and its many islands separated by vast waters.

“As far as anyone was concerned, it was a bunch of uninhabited jungle islands,” Luginbill said. “A lot of people don’t realize the significance of the Pacific Theater.”