Grube helped build National Infantry Museum’s historic collection

Now in ill health, former director wanted to honor soldiers, not glorify war

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comJune 16, 2009 

Dick Grube was always a collector.

At age 13, Grube would buy shaving mugs and other items at auctions, often for no more than a quarter. He eventually would trade these to antique dealers for swords and other military items.

Many years later, after a long military career, he used those skills to help build the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning into one of the finest of its kind in the country.

“We would not have nearly the wonderful collection of things we do without Dick Grube,” said Frank Hanner, former director who has turned his attention to the armor museum, which will move to Fort Benning from Fort Knox. “Dick never got the support he and the museum deserved, but he found a way to get things done.”

When the new National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park officially opens Friday, Grube, museum director from 1972-1995, will not be among those touring the $91-million facility. He is in poor health.

“Oh, he’ll be there,” insisted one his three daughters, Jennifer Brown. “We may just drive by but he’ll be there.”

Grube, 76, a lieutenant colonel who served in Korea and Vietnam, dreamed of one day having a position at a museum when he left the Army. Sitting in his Columbus home, he smiled and said, “I used to joke that when I retired I’d like to go to the armory in Pennsylvania and dust cannons.”

Grube always made sure people knew the museum was there not to glorify war but to “honor soldiers and to let people know the infantryman is a human being.”

He wanted visitors to understand that the museum was “more than a collection of things painted olive drab.” As examples, he gives the liquor cabinet of President Ulysses S. Grant, pay slips from the Revolutionary War and a violin made by a soldier from an empty ammunition box in Vietnam.

Hanner worked with Grube, beginning in 1981, and took over for him in 1995. Michael Criscillis is the new director.

“Dick is a great guy who was totally dedicated to the Infantry,” Hanner said.

Grube and his wife, Deanna, have been married more than 50 years. “That museum was his greatest love,” she said with a laugh. “I was his second.”

The museum began in 1959. When Grube took over in 1972, it still was housed in wooden buildings on post. “The roof would leak, and he’d have to go down there and mop up,” said his wife. “There was no heat, no air conditioning. Guards set fires to keep warm.”

In 1977, the museum moved to the building that formerly housed the post hospital, one of the oldest buildings on post. “Dick told them what walls to take down, where to paint,” Deanna said. “He directed everything. He’d be there from 5 to 7, and, if an alarm would go off, he’d spend the night.”

He traveled all over the country to find museum items dealing with other museums and private collections. One of the prized items Grube found was the diamond encrusted baton of Nazi leader Hermann Goering. “It was sitting in a safe in a government office,” he said. “Nobody had seen it.”

“We drove it home from Washington, D.C., with other items,” his wife recalled. “I think I kept it under my pillow at night.”

Another interesting item is a bronze bust of Adolf Hitler taken from the German dictator’s mountain retreat. It had been buried, then later flipped upside down and used to hold a flagpole. When Grube found it in an office, it was being used as a trash can.

“We’ve never been able to display at one time but a small portion of what we have,” he said.

Grube, who has been honored by the National Infantry Association with the prestigious Order of St. Maurice Medallion Primicerius Award for his service to the Infantry, also has served on the board of Port Columbus, the Civil War Naval Museum.

“I love history,” he said,

Asked what he misses most about not being at the museum, he replied, “The soldiers and their questions.”

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