Collecting images of the US Military on Grand Turk
By Dr. Neal V. Hitch, Museum Director ~ Photos Courtesy TCI National Museum
During the early 1950s, the US Military constructed two facilities on the remote, out of the way isle of Grand Turk. The base to the extreme north of the island served as a listening post for the US Navy’s Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUS, program of tracking Soviet submarines. The Grand Turk Auxiliary Air Force Base at the southern end of the island served as a downrange station of the Eastern Test Range operated under contract by the Pan American Company. These two bases became known as North Base and South Base.
Many of the buildings on the bases have just reached the 50 year mark. In the United States this would make them candidates for evaluation as “historic structures” with eligibility for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, if the buildings were still operated by the US Department of Defense they would now fall under the category of “cultural resources” and a series of surveys, evaluations, histories and reports would be written. All of this would be for their ultimate inclusion into a cultural resource management plan.
The history of the US military on Grand Turk is an interesting one. It is also a history that is just coming to light. The buildings on the bases are historically significant. They share a part of a quickly disappearing history. They are also resources that could be used to stimulate the tourism economy in the Turks & Caicos. They are also really interesting to visit.
Over the last year, the National Museum has been contacted by several veterans who served on Grand Turk. At least three have returned recently bearing gifts of pictures and memorabilia. The pictures and stories have aided our understanding and can help the museum work toward developing a plan to interpret the US military presence in the Turks & Caicos.
The museum would like to expand its collection of items associated with the bases. This is harder than you think. The bases were small, had a rotating staff, and almost everything associated with the life, work or leisure of the servicemen is in the United States and not in the Turks & Caicos.
In the last two years we certainly have expanded our collection of images. But all except a few of these have been digital copies of originals. Digital images are great for use in publications and even exhibit panels, but the museum wants to preserve this history for generations to come. We have the facilities and storage to do this. What we would like to get are more original images. Whether slides, negatives or photographs, it is the original artifact that forms the basis of museum collections.
The collection of images and memorabilia need to go hand in hand with the collection of stories. The museum can interpret the “official” story that happened on Grand Turk, but the individual stories are much more interesting. These can come in the form of recollections or oral histories, or in the more traditional sources of history: notebooks, diaries, reports and memoirs. The museum has received a few written recollections. These often come with the images brought by visiting veterans. These stories are about people and the images illustrate their experiences here.
The combination of the images, memorabilia and stories is what it takes to create a museum exhibit. This exhibit could be placed in the existing museum on Grand Turk, or could be placed in one of the currently abandoned buildings at the old Navy facility. These are all stages of a plan that the museum hopes will come together.
Right now we are focusing on the first stage of the plan. Before anything else happens, we need to collect the artifacts and the stories. If you have any information about the military bases, if you were stationed on Grand Turk, or if you have an interest in discussing the donation of artifacts, the museum can be contacted via the information at the top of the preceding page. We would love to talk to you about our plans.
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Marta Morton, owner of Harbour Club Villas, shot this photo on the magical island of Salt Cay. The foreground is filled with the endemic National Flower Turks & Caicos Heather in full bloom. St. John's Anglican Church, built in the early 1800s, is in the background. To see more of her work, visit www.myturksandcaicosblog.com