Heritage Learning Center will provide history lessons, highlighting NH military contributionsBy SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News
March 11. 2018 8:54PM
BOSCAWEN — For more than 20 years, the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery has been a place of reverence and remembrance.
Now supporters want to make it a place of learning as well.
The New Hampshire Veterans Heritage Learning Center is set to open on Veterans Day, which happens to be the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, when the nation celebrated the end of the first world war. It was to have been “the war to end all wars,” but history has proven otherwise, as the 20,000 markers in Boscawen bear witness.
The nonprofit N.H. Veterans Cemetery Association has been quietly raising funds for the new learning center; an addition to the administration building that will house it is complete. Now they hope the public will pitch in to finish the project.
Retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Curry of Concord, a former president of the association, is the fundraising chair. The nonprofit has already raised $300,000 and needs to raise another $400,000, he said.
The new center is not a museum, Curry stressed: “It’s an educational facility.”
The 1,200-square-foot center will offer “a chronological trip, if you will, through the history of America’s military experience,” Curry said. And within that framework, he said, “We’re capturing and highlighting the participation of New Hampshire individuals and units.”
The new center will feature digital displays, kiosks and interactive exhibits. “Kids want to push buttons; they want to hear something, touch something,” Curry said.
Exhibits will highlight New Hampshire’s participation in key military missions. And one focus is the role of the “citizen soldier who volunteers in times of crisis in service to the nation,” Curry said.
Among the exhibit titles: “Live Free or Die,” “Trial by Fire,” “Against All Odds” and “Duel in the Desert.” An “On This Day” exhibit will feature important military milestones for every day of the year. And a “Wall of Honor” will tell the stories of all those from New Hampshire who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
One novel feature is the “footlocker theater.” Instead of seats, the area will feature rows of footlockers containing helmets, uniforms and other artifacts from different military eras.
Curry spent 32 years in the Army; he served as a brigade commander in Bosnia in 1995 and a battalion commander during Desert Storm. He plans to donate his own Kevlar helmet and Desert Storm uniform for the footlockers.
Students will be encouraged to handle such objects, Curry said. “They’ll be able to touch it, pass it around, take a picture,” he said.
To really engage youngsters, he said, “It needs to be fun.”
Michael Horne, director of the veterans cemetery, said he hopes the new center’s interactive displays will help visitors relate in a meaningful way to those buried here, “to tell their stories all the way back in the 1600s up through the present, and even as we go forward in the future.”
Horne envisions re-enactors coming to the center to bring some of those stories to life; there’s also a large screen that will display videos.
Another feature is a “where are they now” kiosk, where visitors can tap into a digital map to learn about veterans who live in their own communities. “That may tell you the guy who pumps your gas or delivers your oil is a veteran — and you didn’t know it,” Curry said.
But the “cherry on the top of the sundae,” he said, will be a digital map table where teachers can call up information about battles their students are studying. If you call up the Battle of Gettysburg, for instance, “This will digitally show where a New Hampshire unit staged, fought and recovered,” he said.
Curry said the association has enlisted the enthusiastic support of a dozen New Hampshire teachers to help put the project together.
And he said teachers have told him they plan to make a visit to the center a learning experience of a different kind: a lesson in “how to behave in this particular environment.” Youngsters need to understand that when they hear Taps, for example, they need to be quiet and respectful, he said.
“This isn’t going to be like going to Six Flags,” he said. “This is a special place, for special people.”
A final exhibit will be a “remembrance station,” where New Hampshire veterans and their families can input information about their service into a database. Curry said the eventual plan is to connect those entries to the cemetery’s grave locator.
Horne said he hopes the new learning center will give visitors a greater understanding of the contributions veterans have made to the state across history. “Veterans are part of the fabric of everything around us,” he said.
And Curry said the center’s purpose is simple: “We want to generate interest in veterans and what they’re about, and how honorable it is to have sacrificed for your country.”
The first veteran was buried at the Boscawen cemetery in November, 1997; in the years since, the cemetery has become a focal point for veterans’ events and observances in New Hampshire.
That’s fitting, Horne said. “It’s got a special air,” he said. “You come here and it’s quiet; it’s peaceful.”
It can be, he said, “a healing place.”
Curry agrees. “This is Arlington (National Cemetery),” he said.
“But smaller and better.”
To make a donation to the New Hampshire Veterans Heritage Learning Center, visit: nhvca.org.