Mannequins of George Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War I uniforms grace a new exhibit at the Fort George G. Meade Museum. The former president's granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, was recruited to help open the gallery today.
But the real celebrities are the Five of Hearts, a World War I era light tank, and the Mark VIII, a 43-ton armored vehicle from the same period, that have finally been brought in from the cold.
"People come to this museum specifically to see this tank," Robert S. Johnson, director of the museum, said, referring to the Five of Hearts, a French-made Renault FT-17.
The American-made Mark VIII is one of four remaining of 100 produced, beginning in 1918, and Fort Meade has the only one that was never modified.
"This one is basically as it was when it came off the assembly line in 1920," Johnson said.
Both vehicles have been displayed outdoors at the base, exposed to the elements for decades.
While one has survived battle and the other years of training, they are not indestructible, and early last year, workers began to build a 2,000-square-foot addition to the museum around the historic pieces.
The new gallery, which includes the mannequins, photographs and examples of art soldiers created in the trenches of World War I, opens to the public tomorrow. Susan Eisenhower, president of a Washington-based international consulting firm and chairwoman of the Center for Post-Soviet Studies, is to be the keynote speaker today at a ceremony to unveil the exhibit.
Major Eisenhower and Lieutenant Colonel Patton served together as officers in the Tank Corps and Tank School at Camp Meade after World War I. They likely worked with Mark VIIIs, which never saw combat but were used in training at the camp throughout the 1920s.
While the two are better known as heroes of World War II, the exhibit focuses on tanks and tankers, as crew members were known, as heroes of World War I, when the machines were introduced.
"There was no way to cross between the trenches, so enter stage left, the new technology of the tank," said Barbara Dlugokinski, the exhibit's designer.
Tanks could crunch over the barbed wire and other obstacles erected between trenches; the small Renault was designed to drive into and out of the trenches, while the Mark VIII usually was large enough to cross them.
Members of Company C in the 334th Tank Battalion used the Five of Hearts, with room for a two-man crew, to push back German troops during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in France in October 1918. The tank was gutted and brought to Camp Meade in 1919, complete with bullet holes in the tail, as a monument to the Tank Corps.
While the Renault is a shell, the Mark VIII has all its components. And given a few hours to tinker with it, mechanics could probably get it started, Johnson said.
Visitors will be able to see the primitive crew compartment in the larger machine, which could hold as many as 13 soldiers, through Plexiglas windows installed on both sides.
Most tankers sat on small metal seats attached to walls of the tank or on a center metal block. None of the seats had seat belts in a vehicle that would sometimes maneuver nearly vertically and bounced violently over high obstacles.
"That was a real problem," Johnson said.
The mechanic who sat in the engine room often passed out from the fumes and 120-degree heat, he said.
The museum, on Griffin Avenue at Fort Meade, is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
Information: (301) 677-6966.
Pub Date: 1/24/97