FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Participants of the Veterans Curation Program got a chance to learn from Fort Leonard Wood’s history subject matter experts Friday and got a behind-the-scenes look at some of the post’s historic relics and most unique artifacts.
The group came from the Veterans Curation Program’s flagship laboratory in St. Louis.
“The Veterans Curation Program is contracted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bring at-risk archaeological collections up to federal standards. While veterans are enrolled in the program, they learn to sort, catalog and photograph historical artifacts, as well as cleaning, scanning and rehousing archives from archaeological investigations in a laboratory setting,” said Nate Ruhnow, assistant lab manager for VCP St. Louis. “I think it was important to bring our veterans to Fort Leonard Wood, so that they would have the opportunity to see the historical sites firsthand and hear from the archaeologists, who did the work.”
Ruhnow said the five-month program is designed to provide veterans a bridging experience from military service into the civilian workforce by, “improving access to the mainstream job market for transitioning veterans, while providing them with employment.”
Stephanie Nutt, archaeologist and Cultural Resources manager for the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch, said she thinks, “the VCP is a wonderful transition program for veterans and exposes them to career fields they may not otherwise know about.”
“The visit to Fort Leonard Wood provides context for the artifacts they work with daily. I like the VCP because of the archaeology and historic preservation angle, but also because the participants are able to use the experience to build their resumes and prepare for job interviews and future employment. It was an honor to host them and introduce them to some of Fort Leonard Wood’s history and archaeology,” Nutt said.
The first stop of the day was to a 100-plus-year-old farmstead here that pre-dated the post. The veterans had several structure foundations to explore at the site, such as a barn, silo and a root cellar.
“When I visited the VCP lab in St. Louis in May, many of the participants were cataloging late 19th and early 20th century artifacts. I thought they would like to see a farmstead site from the same time period to get a better understanding of where those types of artifacts could be found,” Nutt said.
Just outside the farmstead is stonework built during World War II by German prisoners of war. The stonework can be found in many places around the installation, like training areas, cemeteries and ranges.
“There is a lot that I didn't know about Fort Leonard Wood, but I think one of the most interesting facts I learned is that POWs had been held there during World War II,” Runhow said.
Next the group toured Countee Hall, named in honor of the late artist Staff Sgt. Samuel Countee, who painted a mural featured in the building while he was stationed here during World War II.
Seth Stopke has been a part of the VCP since May. The former Marine said he was impressed by Countee Hall and the World War II-era stonework around the building.
“Countee Hall holds special significance as it served as Fort Leonard Wood’s Black Officers Club, allowing us to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the contributions and history of Black service members and officers who served our country at this very location,” Stopke said. “This restored site also showcased the stonework executed by the German prisoners of war.”
At the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex, the group got a private tour of the basement, where items of historic significance are catalogued, restored and preserved.
“Among the remarkable items were a flag displayed during Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession, hand-made ID tags predating the standard-issue tags for servicemen and women, and even a unique prototype gas mask designed like Mickey Mouse for children,” Stopke said. “This unique and enlightening experience left us with a profound appreciation for the dedication and effort put into preserving historical treasures.”
Ruhnow said his favorite part of the entire post tour, “was being able to see behind the scenes in the museum storage area.”
“I’m a bit of a history nerd, and I’ve always wanted to see behind the scenes like that. I thought it was really cool to see things that your average museum goer doesn’t get the opportunity to see,” Ruhnow added.
Stopke said his visit to Fort Leonard Wood, “was a wonderful and rewarding experience. Given the chance, I would eagerly embark on this journey again to delve deeper into the significant history preserved at this remarkable location.”
Runhow is not only an assistant lab manager for the program, he is also a former Marine. He said he went through the program as a lab technician and graduated in March of 2021.
“The Veterans Curation Program helped me to discover what I wanted to do with my life. After graduating from the program, I spent two years working as a veterans service officer until the opportunity arose to return to the program as a manager. I was eager to return because I believe so strongly in the program and its mission,” Ruhnow said.
He said for veterans interested in taking part in the VCP, “we are currently taking applications for our next term, which starts in November.”
The application can be found on the VCP website.