Peace Time: Not Fade Away


February 12, 2009:  The dwindling U.S. forces in Europe are turning into a museum, literally. There since World War II, American military units casually preserved many historical artifacts. For example, the first U.S. M-4 tank to break into Bastogne during the December, 1944 Battle of the Bulge, was found (by checking vehicle serial numbers) to have been sitting in a U.S. base, as a nameless World War II monument, for over fifty years. Many similar discoveries have been made, and military historians, and the army brass, are wondering what to do about it.

The U.S. Army 1st Armored Division established a museum. Although the 1st Armored left Europe in 1946, and only returned in 1971, it was able to collect nearly 3,000 items (including 140 tanks, artillery and other vehicles) for a museum. Many other units that were there between World War II and today, collected historical artifacts and used them to decorate their bases or just hang on a wall (in a club or headquarters.) All of the 1st Armored is returning to the United States in the next few years (many units have already returned), and officials in Europe are now trying to do right by the museum. Established in 1963 in Europe, it has moved around a bit, and now the division is trying to scrounge up the funds to get it back to the United States, and preserve the collection.

But the 1st Armored collection is only a fraction of the artifacts found throughout U.S. military bases in Europe. Many of these bases have already been closed. Some artifacts were sold, some were given away or lost. It's an enormous chunk of U.S. military history, and most of it is in danger of being lost forever.

After spending over half a century years in Europe, the U.S. Army force went from two corps and over six divisions (18 combat brigades) during the Cold War, to the current four brigades (which are also subject to duty in distant combat zones, like Iraq or Afghanistan). During the Cold War, there were over 300,000 U.S. troops in Western Europe, now it's about 40,000, and headed for 33,000 in five years.




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