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Exploring Jeffco’s role in World War II

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Historical exhibit opens at Hiwan Homestead Museum

By Sandy Barnes

Marking the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, an exhibit illustrating the role of Jefferson County in World War II opened at the Hiwan Homestead Museum on Friday.

Titled “We Can Do It: Jefferson County in World War II,” the exhibit features a large aerial photo of the former Denver Ordnance Plant in Lakewood, where 22,000 employees of the Remington Arms Co. produced ammunition for the war effort in the 1940s.

Half of the workers at the ordnance plant were women, said Meghan Vickers of the Hiwan Homestead Museum, who coordinated the exhibit. The Denver Federal Center is now on the site of the ordnance plant, she noted.

Coleman Motor Co. in Littleton, where 10-ton trailers were assembled during World War II, also is featured in the extensive display.

Another colorful display tells the story of Colorado native Wendell Fertig with photos and military artifacts. As a U.S. Army officer, Fertig developed guerrilla warfare tactics in the Philippines to fight the Japanese.

The unconventional combat techniques that Fertig used to train and command American-Filipino soldiers on the Philippine island of Mindanao later became incorporated into the U.S. Army Special Forces, said Vickers. After World War II, Fertig became of the head of the ROTC program at the Colorado School of Mines, she added.

Hanging above the display of Fertig is a large Japanese flag, which Tom Hayden III, father of Clear Creek County Commissioner Tom Hayden, retrieved when he helped liberate the prisoner of war camp at Ofuna, Vickers said.

A fur-lined parka and ski poles belonging to Lookout Mountain resident Dick Over offer a glimpse of his World War II service as a member of the 10th Mountain Division. Over has traveled in Colorado for the last several years to discuss his experiences during mountain training at Camp Hale near Leadville, and is the subject of a film in production.

Medical equipment used in World War II is featured in another area of the exhibit, along with a mess kit, blankets, vintage combat helmets and pineapple-shaped grenades, which have been deactivated.

Information about Eric Douglas, son of the original owners of the Hiwan Homestead who served in a medical unit during World War II, is also presented in the display.

While developing the exhibit, Vickers said she learned that Jefferson County residents and businesses took an active part in the World War II effort, spurring significant growth in the county’s population. From 1940 to 1950, the cities of Littleton and Golden doubled in population, she said.

The exhibit runs through November.

The Hiwan Homestead Museum, at 4208 S. Timbervale Drive, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday during May. June through August, the museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, call 720-497-7650 or visit https://jeffco.us/open-space/parks/hiwan-homestead-museum/.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.