New museum set to open on Veteran's Day

New museum set to open on Veteran's Day

American French Genealogical Society President Normand Deragon, left, stands with Glenn Dusablon, founder of the Veterans Memorial Museum. (Valley Breeze photos by Sandy Seoane)
Partnership between AFGS, Veterans' museum 'a perfect fit'

WOONSOCKET - A priceless collection containing thousands of tokens of military history - from uniforms and weapons, to hand-drawn strategic maps and photographs - is now on display at 78 Earle St., and residents will have a chance to view the new permanent city attraction starting on Veterans' Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Woonsocket native Glenn Dusablon has been traveling to military-related events with items from his impressive stock for years, and was inspired to create something permanent after The Valley Breeze published an article on his collection back in 2011. For the past several years, Dusablon has been hard at work, first finding a home for artifacts - a 2,300 square foot auditorium-style room above the American French Genealogical Society - then renovating the space and creating exhibits that not only preserve history, but document the lives of many local soldiers.

The resulting Veterans Memorial Museum lays out the city's contributions to various war efforts, while placing those individual commitments in a greater context that holds universal appeal.

"Most people seem a little amazed when they come in to see this stuff," Dusablon said, standing amid his creation this week.

Among Dusablon's treasures are guns, bullets, battle flags and discharge papers, along with combat knives, war trophies, and trench art. Guests will view a hand-drawn map of Japan, once used to strategically plan a secret invasion, a captured Viet Cong helmet, a German soldier's Bible and a World War II bomber jacket, painted with the same "Sleepy Time Girl" logo that graced the soldier's plane.

Many of the items are considered very rare and are high in value.

Original photographs document the process by which American troops destroyed Fort Drum in Manila Bay, Philippine after it was captured by Japanese troops.

Dusablon's extensive collection of photographs also give life to the exhibits, making the heroes feel more like real, and relatable, people. One on Ensign Eleanor Clapp Smith displays the uniform she wore during World War II along with photographs of her as a young Navy nurse, and related news articles documenting her service.

Another display honors Dusablon's own father, who served on a submarine in World War II. Letters he wrote accompany uniforms, photographs and other artifacts from his time in the service.

"My dad was really supportive of my collecting," Dusablon said, smiling toward the extensive display on father Robert Dusablon, which serves as a tribute to the man who inspired a serious life-long hobby.

In many cases, families have donated or sold entire trunks full of a soldier's memories.

"So many people throw this stuff away when their parents pass," he said. In some cases, families loath to part with the valuable artifacts have made long-term loan agreements with Dusablon to allow for a display.

The museum also includes a small library with books related to conflicts, where veterans can relax on a couch or watch a related documentary.

In the mix is the object that started it all: a D-Handle Bowie knife that Dusblon's great, great uncle took off of a confederate during the Civil War. Dusablon has had that artifact since he was 10 years old.

While the doors to the museum will be open starting next month, it will still take time before the Veterans Museum is handicap accessible. Officials from the organization that owns the building - AFGS - aim to install an elevator to allow guests to travel to both the Veterans Museum and to their extensive library on French ancestry in the basement. But the project will cost around $200,000, money they hope to garner during an upcoming fundraising campaign.

"It's limited access and there's not much we can do about it," said AFGS President Normand Deragon. "We bought this building strictly with the support of our membership, but we're going to reach out to the community this time."

The building, a vast 100-plus-year-old brick structure just a block from busy Social Street, was purchased from the First Universalist Church by AFGS in 2007 and has undergone plenty of additional improvements over the past year. The organization has added lockers and a new reception desk by its main basement library, and has thrown down a fresh coat of paint in the room to compliment a new layout with long tables at the center. AFGS has also recently installed air conditioning in the building and has upgraded to a new high-tech security system. A new room at the genealogical society holds additional resources, such as family histories, periodicals and city directors, plus every edition of local newspaper The Call published from 1928-1949.

The energy, and optimism surrounding the future of the new city resource is high.

"Doing what we do downstairs, and this being historical too: it's a great fit," Deragon said of his new tenant. "This was basically a storage unit for us. This far surpasses anything we would have been able to do here."

Dusablon is equally grateful for the new partnership.

"Without AFGS, I would still be working out of the trunk of my car," he said. "I think we complement each other very well because we're both historical."

The Veterans Museum will be open the same hours as the library downstairs: Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This Saturday, Oct. 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dusablon will host a pre-viewing event for donors, including light refreshments. Those who would like to attend are asked to call him at 401-222-9025.

Glenn Dusablon stands beside a museum display dedicated to his father, Robert Dusablon, who served on a submarine during World War II.