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The Story of the Spearhead Museum
A Military Showpiece in Frankfurt from 1981 to 1992

  PHOTO ABOVE: 3AD Commander, Maj. Gen. Walter F. Ulmer (center), prepares to cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the Spearhead Museum at Drake Kaserne on April 15, 1981. Also pictured are SSG Dan Peterson (left), museum curator, and LTC Rolf Schmitz (right), Div. Public Affairs Officer.

Preface to Article Below

The museum's founder and director, Dan Peterson, wrote this piece in 1991, less than a year before news came that the 3rd Armored Division would be deactivated and the museum would be closed. The Spearhead Museum, however, was to live on in spirit, as Peterson, then an Army civilian employee, went on to become founder and director of the 1st Armored Division Museum in Baumholder, Germany. Part of the original Spearhead collection, which was relevant to the Army in Germany in general, is on exhibit in Baumholder today. That includes a number of Iraqi tanks captured by the 3AD in Gulf War I.


by Dan Peterson in 1991

The current Spearhead Museum had its origins in a reply to a form "welcome letter" I received from the 3rd Armored Division Command Sergeant Major in 1979. At the time, I was curator of the 3rd Cavalry Museum at Ft. Bliss, Texas, but as an Army sergeant, I was scheduled for another tour in Germany with the 3rd Armored Division. In the last block of the questionnaire attached to the welcome letter was the question, "Is there any special assignment you would want in the 3rd Armored Division?" Never dreaming this block would be read, let alone considered, I half-jokingly wrote, "Be the unit historian and create a division museum." Having served earlier in the 3rd Armored Division (3rd Bn., 36th Infantry), I was already aware that this was one of the famous combat divisions of World War II, yet it did not have a museum as did many other Army divisions.

I was supposed to be assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 12th Cavalry, (the modem-day equivalent to the 83rd Recon), but for reasons unknown, my orders were amended and I was reassigned to 3rd Armored Division Headquarters. After reporting, I learned that the Division Chief of Staff had my orders changed, and I would be the additional duty historian while serving as an Operations Sergeant in Division G-3. There was no talk of a museum then, but it was always on my mind, and in 1980, after the historical files were organized, I proposed to the Division Commander, Major General Walter F. Ulmer, Jr., that we build a museum. Having previously served as curator of the 3rd Cavalry Museum, I was aware of what this would involve, and already had numerous contacts in the Army Museum System who might lend their support. General Ulmer wholeheartedly supported the project and we set the goal to open the museum on the Division's 40th anniversary of April 15, 1981.

We immediately set about the task of selecting a site and acquiring artifacts. There had previously been a historical collection, though it was not an official Army museum and had been closed down in 1976. Some of the material from this earlier collection was tracked down, the biggest prize being a collection of Colonel Frederick Brown's wartime maps, which had been displayed in the Division Headquarters Company dayroom. Today, many of these maps are displayed throughout the museum.

There was a small historical archives previous to the museum's formation in the G-3 office. Among these papers was a 1945 press release to Armor Magazine which led to the return of a most interesting, and historically significant object. The release referred to a Nazi Eagle ornament taken from the desk of the SS Panzer School commandant during the capture of Paderborn, which was to be presented to the commander of the U.S. Armor School at Fort Knox. We found that the "Paderborn Trophy" was in storage at Fort Knox, and after some negotiations, it has been returned to the 3rd Armored Division after 35 years!

Artifacts came from a wide variety of sources. Numerous weapons, obsolete by today's standards, but current Army equipment during WWII, were brought from storage in the Pueblo Army Depot in Colorado. Other Army museums also helped, besides the Paderborn trophy from Fort Knox, the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, GA transferred many useful artifacts including an original WWII 2.36 in. "Bazooka" rocket launcher. WWII vintage army vehicles of the same types used by the Spearhead division were recovered from all over Europe. After WWII, much of this equipment was transferred to our allies under the Military Assistance Program, and now that it is totally obsolete it is being returned to U.S. control for disposal. Vintage vehicles have been "rescued" from property disposal lots in Belgium, France, Holland and Germany, which are now restored and on display at the Spearhead Museum.

The museum received an ample two-story structure in mid 1980. Located at the Division's headquarters at Drake Kaseme in Frankfurt, it is situated in a brick and stucco structure which served as a stable for a Wehrmacht horse-drawn artillery unit during WWII. Hidden behind museum exhibits are massive metal and concrete watering troughs which were too difficult to remove, and iron rings remain prominent fixtures on the museum's outside wall, where horses were once tethered for outside grooming.

With the museum's scheduled grand opening only months away in April 1981, it was planned to build the museum in two distinct phases. "Phase 1" was to be a large diorama featuring four vehicles and a dozen figures representing elements of the 3rd Armored Division passing through a German town in early 1945. With much work, this could be completed by April 15th. The second phase would be the upstairs galleries which in chronological order would trace the Division's history from its formation to the present day.

Numerous people assisted in the building of the museum. Some of the realistic scenery representing a war-torn German village was donated by a local Frankfurt television station. A platoon from the 23rd Engineer Battalion helped construct the exhibits and pour concrete pads for the outside vehicles to rest on. Two talented soldier-artists painted background scenery and sculpted mannequins, with one designed to represent Major General Maurice Rose. During the weeks immediately prior to the April grand opening, our small staff of two worked long into the night, and on the night prior to the opening, even Colonel Schmitz, whose G-5 section the museum fell under, stayed up gluing hundreds of miniature vehicles in a display designed to show the fighting power of the Division.

The museum opened on schedule the morning of April 15, 1981 with the division commander, Major General Ulmer appropriately cutting the "Armor" red, yellow and blue crepe ribbon with a sharp downward stroke of a bayonet fixed M-l Garand rifle!

The opening was a great success, with television and newspaper publicity which brought many visitors. News of the museum also brought the first WWII Spearhead veterans. It was, and remains these visiting veterans who have added so much to the museum with their donations of personal memorabilia. Though the museum already had an impressive collection of tanks, weapons and equipment of the types used by the Spearhead Division, very few of these items had a direct 3rd Armored Division connection. Therefore even small and seemingly insignificant items belonging to 3rd Armored Division veterans are important and sought after additions to the collection.

Construction continued with the building of the "phase 2" upstairs exhibit galleries. Here, the museum was divided into a series of rooms each covering a specific period in the Division's history. Beginning with a display on the Division's activation, rooms in chronological order covered the Division in training, each of the five European campaigns to deactivation, the reactivated Division at Fort Knox, and the return to Germany up to the present. During the midst of this construction, my tour in Germany was up and I had orders to be an Army recruiter in Fresno, California. I wanted to finish what I had started, and since by Army regulation all Army museums are required to have a civilian curator, I was offered to apply for the job if I elected to leave active duty. I qualified and was hired, ending nine years service, most of which with the 3rd Armored Division. Until that time the Spearhead Museum was perhaps unique in the Army as a recognized museum entirely built and staffed by soldiers.

Phase 2 opened on the Division's 42nd anniversary in 1983 with the commander, Major General Thunnan E. Anderson cutting the ribbon. With the addition of the upstairs galleries, the facility grew to the largest U.S. Army museum in Europe.

The next challenge the museum faces was its certification inspection in 1985. This program was initiated by the U.S. Army Center of Military History to raise and maintain professional museum standards comparable with those established by the American Association of Museums. Every facet of museum operations was inspected by the certification team. The museum passed, and became one of the first Division-level museums in the Army to be certified. At the time of this writing, only about half of all U.S. Army museums have attained certification.

Even with the major construction completed and the certification, the work was far from over, Though there was no more room for expansion of interior exhibits, a sharp lookout was maintained for historical vehicles to be displayed outside in the museum's historical vehicle park.

The museum still actively seeks vehicles of the types used the 3rd Armored Division, and with nearly 20 different types, has one of the largest displays of historic U.S. Army vehicles in Europe.

Another important collecting area for the museum is in archival materials. Copies of all significant documents, books and literature pertaining to the Division is sought, and with visits to the National Archives, the 3rd Armored Division Archives at the University of Illinois, and materials sent by the Army Staff College and several Spearhead veterans, this collection has grown considerably from the one small folder of documents in the museum when it opened in 1981.

The possession of an archives is extremely important as the museum receives historical inquiries pertaining to the 3rd Armored Division from around the world. The museum also frequently assists modern 3rd Armored Division units with officer and NCO Professional Development Classes, and other activities requiring historical information pertaining to the 3rd Armored Division. Often this includes "battlefield tours" where units actually retrace the routes of Division elements during World War II.

Most recently the Spearhead Museum has undertaken an oral history interview program, with a goal of interviewing as many World War II veterans as possible. Veterans visiting the museum have been asked to share their experiences, and beginning with the taping success at the 1989 Cincinnati Reunion, it is hoped that we will be able to continue the interviewing program at all future 3rd Armored Division Reunions.

It is unfortunate that such great distances prevent most Third Armored Division veterans from visiting the 3rd Armored Division Museum. Every veteran who plans on traveling in Europe is encouraged to visit the museum, meet the modem Spearhead Soldiers of today, and see their equipment.


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