“War is Over,” a huge front page newspaper headline proclaimed of the historic 11th hour of the 11th day of 11th month when an armistice was signed in 1918 ending World War I.
“This newspaper that my great grandfather saved along with my grandfather’s helmet and wound certificate started all this,” said Gus Bryngelson of the family heirlooms displayed in a museum he built adjacent to his home in southeastern Idaho. He exhibits World War I memorabilia he has been collecting for nearly six decades. The newspaper is preserved in a glass picture frame near the front door.
“When I was 12, my grandmother gave those three things to me,” said Bryngelson, 67. “They’re the keystone to my collection and sparked my interest in the war. I’ve never lost my desire to collect, learn as much as I can about it, and educate others.”
Since retiring from farming in the Minidoka area northeast of Rupert, Bryngelson has devoted his time to his military history mission. To build his immaculate 640-square-foot museum in 2019, he connected two shipping containers, insulated them, laid carpeting, and installed heaters and a dehumidifier for climate control.
He assembled exhibits using thousands of items he has collected: weapons, ammunition, uniforms, currency, gas masks, canned food, soda crackers in their original packaging, photos, and diaries.
A guest registry shows nearly 300 visitors have come to the museum, including Scouts, Good Sam Club members traveling through, and others who hear about it by word-of-mouth.
Bryngelson and his wife, Maggie, tell visitors how the isolated assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 led to a world war and the deaths of nine million soldiers, sailors, and airmen from 28 countries.
“This is dedicated to the men and women who served, including my relatives,” Bryngelson said.
He attributes his fascination for WW1 to his grandfather, Robert S. Adams, and his brother, William W. Adams, who served in the U.S. Army in Europe.
“I try to find out as much as I can about the veterans who used the things I’ve collected. It’s a way to remember and honor their service and to also educate people about the war.”
In addition to the museum, Bryngelson shares parts of his collection elsewhere. He creates an educational display at the Utah Gun Collectors Association shows in Ogden and the renowned Ohio Valley Military Society’s Show of Shows.
He and Maggie also lead living history presentations at schools, 4th of July celebrations, and military museums. Maggie dresses in a Red Cross nurse’s uniform while Bryngelson picks a uniform from one of his 37 mannequins dressed in uniforms representing more than a dozen countries.
At schools, Bryngelson often focuses on a positive outcome of the war—for example, the establishment of a modern ambulance service.
“At the time, the idea of a mobile hospital was new,” he said. “Today, we take it for granted.”
To help students understand the war, the Bryngelsons have them carry mock patients lying on stretchers to an ambulance, a replica of a M1917 Ford Model T Army ambulance.
“I couldn’t find an ambulance, so I built one based on photos,” Bryngelson said.
When he leads a tour, Bryngelson wears his cowboy hat with a red poppy tucked in the hat band. A global symbol for memorializing war casualties, the red poppy’s use and the motto “Lest We Forget” were inspired after Canadian battle surgeon Dr. John McCrae wrote the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” It’s about red poppies growing in battlefields of northern Belgium.
“A friend in Canada who’s a docent at McCrae’s home gave it to me,” Bryngelson said.
Along with accepting donations from friends and other collectors, he finds items on the internet, at estate sales, and gun shows. At one estate sale, he bought the uniform of ambulance driver, F.K. Frankenfield, along with his diary, photos, and other personal items.
“I had so much information, I had to write a book about him,” said Bryngelson, who sells copies at the museum.
Although his collection is extensive, Byngelson said it has a few gaps.
“I’m looking for uniforms from Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Serbia,” he said. “When I find them, I might have to get another shipping container.”
To tour the museum, the Bryngelsons may be reached at 208.431.5665. ISI