WOONSOCKET – First-time visitors to the Veterans Memorial Museum in Woonsocket might react in awe like a character in a movie: mouth open and eyes widen in wonder.
The Gothic Revival architecture styles the former church that the museum calls home, which features a soaring ceiling, heavy dark wood, an elevated stage, and a balcony for a dramatic backdrop.
But the real stars of the historic show are the rows of mannequins dressed in military attire; soldiers and medics of the Revolutionary War of 1776 to the most recent wars – forever ready for duty.
Directing the museum, founder Glen Dusablon strolls proudly along the aisles lined with vintage guns, knives, documents, uniforms, bayonets, bags, bullets, and hundreds of other military items. He stops at a glass case that contains antique guns.
“This gun was used by the Germans in World War ll,” he said, pointing to a black machine gun on display in a glass case. “The sound it made was very intimidating.”
Dusablon, a North Smithfield resident, flanked by a revolutionary war-era rifle and a spontoon from the same era that was found in Glocester, discusses some Native American objects on display. In fact, he can tell a story about most of the hundreds of items featured in the museum.
One of them involves his father, Robert Henry Dusablon, who served in World War ll aboard a submarine. His father and his mates were awarded a broom, a symbol of a, “clean sweep,” which means they sank all the ships in the convoy they attacked, said Dusablon.
The USS Permit flew the broom stick coming into Pearl Harbor, while the Navy band played on the dock, where men cheered and the harbor ships blew their whistles. His father felt so proud he, “almost blew an artery,” Dusablon said.
Another family member, Dusablon’s aunt, served as a nurse in World War I. Some women served as delivery pilots in WWll he says, later pointing to a parachute made for women during that war.
Dusablon traces his penchant for memorabilia to when he was 12 and bought a German helmet adorned with a bronze star for $15 bucks. Today, the same helmet sells for about about $ 6000, he said.
A few years later he played and excelled at hockey, baseball, basketball, and football for Mount Saint Charles High School. But a knee injury while playing football resulted in his ineligibility for the military, which at that time was conscripting young men into the Vietnam war.
During that war he noticed that soldiers who came home were, “not honored.” No parade, no fanfare, nothing, says Dusablon, adding that, “It’s important to know men and women sacrificed their lives.”
So Dusablon built a career as an electrical inspector and once retired, he began creating traveling displays to honor veterans. At the Rhode Island Veterans home in Bristol, he was asked to give a talk. Serendipitously a gentleman in the audience offered space for Dusablon to display at the American-French Genealogical Society.
Soon veterans and families, many of them from northern Rhode Island, began loaning their war memorabilia to the museum. Roaming the aisles of the museum, which are about the length of a bowling alley, visitors might find something loaned from a friend, relative or neighbor who served in the military.
Dusablon spearheaded the renovations in the Earle Street building in Woonsocket where the museum resides – originally constructed as a church in the 1920s.
The Veterans Memorial Museum will reopen Saturday, Sept. 12 – one day after Patriots Day – and will keep hours on Tuesdays and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.