Experience WWII history at R.I.’s new interactive education center

Experience WWII history at R.I.’s new interactive education center

A group of students check out artifacts from World War II at the World War II Foundation Global Education Center, located at 344 Main St. in South Kingstown.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Thousands of artifacts and books telling stories of the World War II generation are now available to the public at a new education center in South Kingstown.

After operating on an appointment-only basis since officially opening this past January, the World War II Foundation Global Education Center, located at 344 Main St., has announced visiting hours for the public.

The artifacts let people, especially students, “know that World War II wasn’t a video game,” Tim Gray, a national award-winning documentary film director and founder of the World War II Foundation, told The Valley Breeze. “Every artifact has a personal story behind it whether we know it or not.”

The nonprofit center’s new public hours, which took effect July 2, are Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Appointments are still necessary for school field trips or for groups with more than 10 people, and individual appointments can still be made for select times.

The interactive center’s mission is to share and preserve the personal stories of the WWII generation “so that future generations don’t forget the sacrifices of all those who served and survived WWII,” reads the organization’s website. “It will also impart the hard lessons of war and its cost to society … The learning center does not glorify war but focuses on the people and their personal stories during that time period.”

Gray, a South Kingstown resident and former TV sports and news anchor, began making films in 2006 and started the World War II Foundation in 2011, he said.

The education center’s curriculum builds on the foundation’s 23 documentary films about WWII. The collection includes thousands of artifacts such as photographs, maps, weapons, and uniforms including helmets damaged by bullets or shrapnel that Gray has collected over the years.

Some pieces, including old newspapers, have been donated by Rhode Islanders, but for the most part “we try to keep it global like the war was,” Gray said, with artifacts from Britain, Japan, Canada, Germany, and more.

The center also has a theater that seats 35 and a library with more than 500 WWII-related books, Gray said.

The collection can take a couple of hours to go through, he said.

With lots of multimedia platforms, “it’s not like a regular museum,” Gray said. “‘Museum’ sounds old and dusty. This isn’t old and dusty.”

Every visitor receives one of the foundation’s documentary films so they can continue their education after they leave, he said.

Some locals, including veterans from Woonsocket and Smithfield, have been featured in Gray’s films, which range in length from 60 to 90 minutes and have been narrated by Bill Belichick, Dan Aykroyd, Tom Selleck, Gary Sinise, Matthew Broderick, and others. The documentaries air on public television stations in the U.S. and around the world.

Between the artifacts, theater, library, and a sound system which plays radio and news broadcasts from the war, Gray said he wanted to give students an experience they don’t typically have in school.

Since opening in January, 500 students – mostly from Rhode Island – and a couple hundred members of the public, including veterans from different wars and conflicts, have visited the center, Gray said.

“We anticipate that it will grow now,” he said. “The student turnout has been really, really good.”

Finding a space for the center had been in the works for five years, Gray said.

The center is in phase one right now, but Gray said he hopes to expand it in the future and add more days and times for the public to visit. He’s waiting to see what the demand will be first, he said.

Aside from Gray and a director of operations, the center is run by volunteers, he said, adding that veterans will help answer questions during large group tours.
Gray said he’s interested in feedback from the public.

The foundation also plans to start a podcast, produced live from the center, and has purchased handheld audio tour guides for visitors as they walk around the center, he said.

Admission is $15 for adults, and free for children 12 and younger. There is no cost for school groups or WWII veterans to visit the center.

For more information, call 401-644-8244 or visit www.wwiifoundation.org and click on the “Education Center” link.

Visitors to the World War II Foundation Global Education Center can see a Pearl Harbor display including a section of the USS Arizona battleship. The center is located at 344 Main St., South Kingstown.