It’s all but impossible to pass the E. Stanley Wright Museum in
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, without squeezing down on the brake pedal. The
front entrance of the World War II museum is, to say the very least, an
When David Wright opened the facility, in part as a tribute to his
father (a World War I Navy veteran), he realized that he would need a
traffic-stopping presentation to attract the number of visitors needed
to make it financially viable. What he came up with was a U.S. Army
Stuart M-3A1 tank, a mortar-and-brick wall — and a diorama seemingly
straight out of the old Combat! television series. As anyone traveling
through Wolfeboro has discovered, it’s hard to ignore the turret of a
tank seemingly poised to send a six-inch shell down Center Street!
The interior of the facility is just as exciting. Exhibits
portray what life was like during the era (1939-45) on both the war and
It is the latter exhibits, however, that really steal this
show: Everything from information on Rosie the Riveter to partially used
ration stamp books (and instructions as to how and when to use them) is
An exhibit of children’s toys — both pre-war and wartime — is
complemented with toy Army nurse kits for the little girls of the day.
During the war, the American toy industry was prohibited from using
scarce materials (such as metal), so many of the toy airplanes, tanks
and guns on display are made of wood.
One of the more interesting displays is on permanent loan from
the New Hampshire Marine Corps Historical Association. It consists of
all the memorabilia associated with former New Hampshire resident Rene
Gagnon — one of six American servicemen who participated in the
historic raising of the United States flag during the battle of Iwo
Jima. The display also includes the flag Gagnon raised upon his return
to Iwo Jima 20 years later.
Also on display is an Army Air Corps mission map from the 8th
Air Force, one of only two still existing, plus uniforms, models and
period-authentic memorabilia. There is a special section that represents
the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). During World War II, this
courageous group of women became pioneers, heroes and role models of
today’s military service women.
The fully restored display of military tanks, half tracks, bomb
carriers, jeeps and cargo trucks is more than a simple static exhibit.
Several times a year — including the Fourth of July and the museum’s
Family Day — the armament once again rolls out. The occasions are the
patriotic parades held annually in New England’s small villages and
towns. No muffled pipes and drums here, only the clatter and rumble of
what has popularly become known as “The Last Great War.”
The tragedy and, at times, light humor of that conflict is
brought graphically to light in displays of actual cartoons published in
newspapers and magazines of the era. For loved ones left behind, the
cartoons helped to ease the pain of loneliness. But nothing can ever
alleviate the pain of a letter returned with the message, “Missing in
Action” inscribed on its front. Even more somber is the display of
yellowed Western Union telegrams from the War Department, notifying the
next-of-kin of the loss of a loved one in combat action.
The Wright Museum has more than met the expectations of its
founder who, sadly, passed away in 2003. It is rapidly becoming a
sought-out resource center; in fact, the establishment of a planned
research library is well under way and should open shortly. World War II
combat and service vehicles are constantly undergoing authentic
restoration and being added to the museum. Some of the armored and
command cars of that era are rare examples of what America’s automobile
manufacturers produced besides tanks, guns and weapons of war.