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Retired Col. Mike Weaver, a former state legislator for Hardin County, hopes to have the last surviving World War II barracks at Fort Knox restored and open to the public by June of next year, but he said he needs more money to finish the project.
Weaver, project manager of the restoration, lobbied the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau and the Joint Executive Council of Veterans Organizations Wednesday to assist financially. He said he has raised around $50,000 in donations so far, which includes a $25,000 gift from the Radcliff and Fort Knox Tourism and Convention Commission and a $10,000 private donation from World War II veteran and local businessman Bill Swope.
Weaver has raised an additional $14,000 by asking for $200 sponsorships from veterans, politicians, business leaders and organizations for a November fundraiser at the Patton Museum, where the barracks now reside. Because the project is important for the entire region, he believes it is imperative to have as many people financially invested as possible.
Organizers are selling commemorative pavers for the project, too. JECVO purchased a brick on Tuesday during its meeting.
“We will do a $500,000 restoration with less than $100,000,” Weaver told the ETCB.
Tourism officials are sending Weaver’s request to a special events committee for review. The committee meets later this month.
Exuding passion for the project, Weaver carried an oak board he pulled from the barracks and personally cleaned to both presentations.
He said the footsteps of soldiers who changed the course of history and fought valiantly to preserve America line those weathered steps and he can practically hear their voices bouncing off the walls when he steps inside.
Whether they were trapped in the Bataan Death March or fought in the Normandy invasion, their stories are preserved in the structure.
“That’s what makes this such a part of history,” he said.
Weaver has served 15 years on the Patton Museum Foundation, which had been working for years to save a barracks on post. Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, former Fort Knox commander, approached museum officials about restoring a barracks with federal money, but when estimates came in at $750,000, Freakley said the money was not available.
Weaver said he asked that it simply be moved to the Patton Museum, where project organizers would refurbish it with volunteer labor and donations.
He has worked with Bluegrass Challenge Academy cadets, Hardin County Detention Center crews and Deputy Jailer Dean Dailey to clear debris and the mess made by animals who ransacked inside.
“What they left behind was somewhat disgusting,” he said.
Weaver also has had lead-based paint removed and stripped the barracks of all vinyl siding, insulation, drywall and other modern additions. He is waiting on a donation of windows so they can be installed, he said.
Weaver said the second floor of the barracks will be restricted to public use because it would need an elevator for access, which is an amenity unbecoming of the restoration.
“You don’t want an elevator in a World War II building,” he said.
But Weaver does plan to install a wheelchair ramp to provide access for handicapped visitors and a virtual reality element to augment tours of the structure.
Weaver estimates as many as 1,500 structures like the barracks were on post during World War II and more than 900 were still around as of a 1992 census, 800 of which were likely barracks. He said the artifacts and history lost in the demolitions is “unconscionable.”
If project organizers had been a few months slower in taking on the project, he said, it likely would have been demolished.
“I think we are extremely lucky to get this old barracks,” he said.
Sherry Murphy, ETCB director, complimented the quality of the restoration and its potential to enhance the community’s historical outreach.
“It’s going to be a huge addition to the Patton Museum,” she said.
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Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or email@example.com.