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A historic gem in our backyard ... and it’s free

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Editorial: June 12, 2013

ISSUE: Rededication of Patton Museum
OUR VIEW: Facility refocused and still free

The rededication of the refocused General George Patton Museum of Leadership and preservation of the World War II-era barracks on the property are major elements in Fort Knox’s celebration Friday of the U.S. Army’s birthday.

The museum’s new concentration on leadership reflects Fort Knox’s central mission as home to Cadet Command, Recruiting Command and the Human Resources Center of Excellence. It continues, of course, to center on the iconic and controversial World War II hero who mastered the art of armored warfare.

The Patton family has been financially supportive and gracious in lending items tied to the historic leader. The community never will repay the debt of gratitude it owes to the Pattons.

More than ever before, the general is at the heart of the museum’s displays. It plans to display roughly 75 percent of the approximately 1,000 Patton-owned items in its collection, ranging from a Cadillac to his dog’s collar. Many of them have rarely been exhibited before.

State-of-the-art exhibits, including many using the latest smartphone technologies to create augmented reality, will be ready for guests Friday. For example, a static exhibit of Patton’s handgun comes alive in a 360-degree display with a few clicks on a cell phone keypad.

While a number of the museum’s collection of armored vehicles were taken to Fort Benning, Ga., with the U.S. Army Armor Center, the facility here is not without its treasures. Gen. Patton’s 1942 GMC 6x6 headquarters and sleeping van will enjoy a prominent place in one of the major permanent exhibits. In the field as he pushed forward to liberate Europe from the Nazis, the truck was where he lived, worked and rested.

Other prominent vehicles on display at the museum include a M7 Priest self-propelled 105mm howitzer; M10 tank destroyer and the Easy-8 Sherman tank.

Visitors also will encounter a new treat on the museum property before ever reaching the main building. Just off the public parking area which has immediate access to U.S. 31W, Fort Knox’s last remaining barracks from the World War II-era is being restored. Hours of donated labor and community contributions have gone into restoring the structure. Like the museum itself, improvements are still in the works but the building will allow visitors to take a realistic step into the past Friday.

Barracks of this type were built by the thousands at military posts and bases across the country. Most of the two-story wood frame structures provided housing for trainees from the late 1930s into the 1990s. Retired Col. Mike Weaver deserves much of the credit for collecting money and directing work on a resurrection that is another enhancement for tourists.

While the museum restoration and the barracks project clearly reflect countless hours of planning and a devotion to quality, the products on display for Gov. Steve Beshear and the community at large are works in progress. It’s only going to get better in the weeks and months ahead.

The new Patton Museum serves as a place of pride for Fort Knox and our entire community. The  remarkable collection of exhibits right in our own backyard represents history at our fingertips. And, as always, admission is free.

It’s clearly the best bargain around.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise’s editorial board.