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Tank, artillery roll into Ventura County as part of new exhibition telling secrets of World War II

A Sherman tank is part of the new "Secrets of World War II" exhibition at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
A Sherman tank is part of the new "Secrets of World War II" exhibition at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

The "Secrets of World War II" exhibition at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley features 200 artifacts part of the 10,000 square foot exhibition.

It’s a startling entrance to an exhibition looking at the biggest conflict in human history. You find yourself face to face with what appears to be the front of a tank. The huge new exhibition at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library tries to tell many of the unknown, or little known, stories of World War II.

"Everyone knows about World War II...Iwo Jima, Normandy, and Pearl Harbor," said Melissa Giller, the Chief Marketing Officer for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

"But what don't they know? There were over 100 million soldiers fighting in World War II from more over 50 countries. Each one of those people had a story," said Giller. "Some of those stories are well known, and some were taken to the grave. We're trying to tell some of those stories."

She talks about some of the highlights of the 10,000 square foot exhibition.

There's a German plane, guns and other weapons used in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of The Bulge, and a signed copy of the speech General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave to the troops on the eve of D-Day.

One of the exhibits features some innocent looking playing cards. Allied POW's would get them in Red Cross packages. When you put them in water, the surface would dissolve to reveal a map of the region in which they were being held captive, so they could plot an escape.

The exhibition is made up of artifacts borrowed from museums, and from the personal collections of veterans, and their families.

"Creating this exhibition is a fascinating story in itself. Some of these items came from small museums. Others are on loan from families," said Randy Swan, who's the Reagan Library and Museum’s Supervisory Curator.

As the Library’s staff worked on the exhibition, they found a number of interesting, but little known World War II stories connected to our region.

Rob Zucca is the Museum’s Exhibit Specialist, who designs many of the displays.

"Did you know a Japanese submarine shelled the oil fields in Ellwood? Did you know the next night West Coast was so nervous we opened up on imaginary airplanes, the Battle of Los Angeles, and shell fragments fell over Los Angeles." said Zucca. "We're trying to pull out a lot of this local history."

The exhibition features a number of interviews with World War II veterans, telling their stories.

The “Secrets Of World War II” exhibition at the Reagan Library opens Saturday, and runs through October 9.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.