Veterans Museum opens on Vancouver VA campus

Former radio transmitter building renovated to house military artifacts

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter



To get there:

Enter the Vancouver Veterans Affairs campus from East Fourth Plain Boulevard, opposite St. Johns Boulevard. Go west past the Center for Community Health (Building 17) on the VA campus. Follow POW/MIA Road as it turns south to the Veterans Memorial Garden, next to the museum.

Ex-soldier Ed Tomlin realized that an Army communications building was the perfect place for his military radio equipment … as museum artifacts.

One of the oldest buildings on the Vancouver’s Veterans Affairs campus is formally introduced in a new role Saturday when the Veterans Museum opens at 10 a.m.

The modest brick structure was built in 1940, when the Vancouver Barracks Army base occupied a big section of what’s now the city’s central core.

The one-story facility was designed to be the radio transmitter building for Pearson Field. It was built more than a mile away from the airport to minimize radio-transmission disruptions.

After its recent renovation, the building now houses displays honoring our nation’s veterans. In addition to artifacts, the grand opening will feature other aspects of military history through re-enactors representing the World War II infantrymen of Fox Company, 104th Division.

On opening day, the museum already has more material than it can show, said Jack Giesen, a member of one of the project’s partners.

“Five to 7 percent is on display. The rest is in storage,” said Jack Giesen, treasurer of the Vancouver Barracks Military Association.

Some of the material has been on the Vancouver Army base, through its many transitions, for decades.

And some of the artifacts came from community members such as Tomlin, who donated 10 radio receivers.

Tomlin, who served with a Nike Ajax surface-to-air missile unit, has been collecting the vintage radio receivers for years.

“I can’t handle them anymore,” said Tomlin, who read a recent story about the museum startup in The Columbian. “That’s what I’ve been looking for.”

Some of the radio receivers he’s acquired go back to the 1930s, Tomlin said.

“It’s possible those radios were ones this place talked to,” Tomlin said.

With plans that were approved in August 1939, the transmitter building is one of only three structures on Vancouver’s VA campus that dates to WWII. The others are a gymnasium and a former patient ward converted to office space. The museum site is the only one of the three that was designed to be permanent.

Seventeen WWII buildings were demolished in 2004 to make way for the county’s Center for Community Health. A historic regimental chapel was torn down in 2007 to make way for a road and transit center.

Now the museum is providing a new home for artifacts that had been part of that historic chapel. A colored glass window includes pieces of broken bottles, with blue fragments coming from milk of magnesia containers.

The museum will be open three days a week, volunteer Janine Davis said: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays; noon to 4 p.m. Fridays; and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Special tours also can be scheduled, Davis said.

There is no admission charge, but donations will be accepted.

Call 360-450-9032 for information.