Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Band of Brothers" Museum

On the way home from a weekend with my sister, we were driving down I-85 in 101-degree heat.  I glanced up from my book just in time to see a mile marker for Toccoa, Georgia 17 miles.  I looked at my husband and asked him if he thought that was the Toccoa…you know, the one from the Band of Brothers.  As he started to shrug, over his shoulder and up in the tree line I saw a billboard with the HBO poster on it.  The one with the soldiers all standing on a hill in a row.  And the billboard read "Toccoa Museum Next Right."  So, being huge fans of the series, the book and the soldiers, we took the next right.  Drove nearly 11 miles through back Georgia roads with very little direction to go on.  It was a normal, hot, muggy day down south and the countryside was everything I remember growing up with.  Large fields outlined with enormous, brown oak tree groves.  Rundown, brick buildings that were once used as gas stations or fire houses.  There were even oblong brick buildings with dingy white awnings, drooped over a walk up window that served as a drive-up restaurants popular in the 1950s.  Sleepy, backwater Georgia.  But around a bend about 9 miles from the interstate was a brand-new Super Wal-mart and row of fast food restaurants.  Intermingled with all of this was the typical, small town Americana.  Another couple of miles, we turned down the older part of town to the train depot where Amtrak has a station on its way from Birmingham up to Washington, DC.  Inside the depot is the best treasure we've seen.  A museum dedicated to the WWII parachute men who trained at Camp Toccoa in the 1940s before shipping overseas, including Easy Company and the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.  An old navy man, Ray Ward, took my husband, our 7-year old daughter and me around the museum and told us all the great stories and showed us all the neat stuff.  But the best part of the museum is a horse stable that was brought over from England.  Yes, a horse stable complete with stalls, thick brown walls and triangle roof.  It would have looked perfect in an English countryside and it was the last one left from WWII.  All the others had been torn down or replaced over the years.  So the museum decided it wanted to preserve it.  Why?  Because men who trained at Camp Toccoa lived in it for some time while they were stationed in England waiting for the Normandy jump or before Market Garden.  So the Mississippi Air National Guard took a C-17 and made its way over to England and brought it back to be reconstructed at the Toccoa Museum.  They refurbished it and used the stalls for displays of maps, gear, beds, flags and other memorabilia.  A great find was a letter from Denver "Bull" Randleman from his mother that was found in one of the walls.  A hand written note about life back home is now behind glass for everyone to read.  It is funny and witty and reflects what life was like for a woman in Arkansas worrying about her son's well-being.  There are so many other treasures for anyone interested in WWII history and especially Band of Brothers history.  They are holding a reunion open to the public on the weekend of 4 October.  There is even a Run Currahee event -- 3 miles up, 3 miles down!  If you are interested, the website is

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