- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Two-story wooden barracks popped up around Fort Knox and military posts across the country as America prepared for World War II.
Built upon identical design plans, the structures were constructed by the dozens in rapid succession. Many remained in use to house recruits for generations and some were adapted for other needs.
Most are gone now. But as a tribute to the period and the memories of soldiers who used it, one building has been relocated to a foundation on the General George Patton Museum of Leadership property for restoration.
Ret. Col. Mike Weaver, who lived in one of the structures in 1961 as he underwent basic training at Fort Knox, is charged with restoring the last of those structures on post. A retired colonel and former state legislator, Weaver is a member of the Patton Museum Foundation and volunteer project manager.
From the back of his pickup truck, Weaver pulled out a weathered oak board that had been a step leading into the barracks. Rubbing his finger across the surface, Weaver points out the straight-cut sides in contrast to the rounded center section where the paint is rubbed away.
In his mind’s eye, Weaver can imagine the hundreds of thousands of combat boots that climbed those stairs and the young Americans who wore them. Many of those soldiers went on to become the heroes of the Normandy invasion, the POWs who suffered through death marches and now are considered part of the Greatest Generation.
“The whole history of that is right there,” Weaver said.
The museum spent more than a decade trying to preserve one of the barracks when approval to relocate a building was granted in October 2010 by Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who was serving as post commander.
In addition to setting a foundation of concrete pillars and moving the building, Freakley’s orders covered reconstruction of the brick chimney.
A preservation expert who evaluated the structure estimated full restoration would cost $750,000, Weaver said. There’s no government money allocated for the restoration.
“It’s all volunteers and all donations,” Weaver said.
He works three days a week at the site with a Hardin County Detention Center crew and Deputy Jailer Dean Dailey. He previously used members of the Bluegrass Challenge Academy.
To this point, much of the work has been cleaning and clearing debris from years of neglect.
“We had tons of wet insulation and what the ’coons, mice and other varmints left behind,” Weaver said.
The objective is to return the building to its World War II appearance. Walls added later have been removed, vinyl siding from a 1980s upgrade was stripped and all insulation and drywall taken out. The walls will feature exposed studs, just as the original plans describe.
Before the final 30 wooden barracks were destroyed on post, Weaver said the museum was allowed to salvage hardwood flooring, steps and a few other items.
He has located bunks in Ohio and secured a few bathroom fixtures from the era.
One particular treasure was discovered behind discarded drywall. Weaver has a pair of 1947 Army illustrations demonstrating how to store equipment on a shelf and footlocker.
The restoration’s exterior will require some modern products for convenience and cost sake. Concrete siding designed to resemble the original weatherboard will be placed on the outside and modern windows with a period look will be installed, he said.
Because free labor and contributions are essential to construction, Weaver said he’s unable to predict how long restoration will take.
A recent $25,000 donation from the Radcliff and Fort Knox Tourism and Convention Commission is the largest single contribution and World War II veteran Bill Swope’s $10,000 gift is the most significant private gift.
The museum foundation has collected $6,000 by selling commemorative brick pavers for a display at the site. A barbecue and burgoo benefit is planned for Oct. 13 alongside the barracks, which can be seen from U.S. 31W next to the museum’s guest parking lot.
Local utilities are expected to install electrical service and water for construction needs in the near future. Weaver said everywhere he’s asked for help, the response has been favorable and enthusiastic.
“And everyone has their own story to tell about these barracks,” he said.
Ben Sheroan can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or email@example.com.