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History being restored at Fort Harrison

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Posted at 5:01 PM, Jan 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-23 19:01:30-05

HELENA — A Helena artist is repairing an 80-year-old mural at the Fort Harrison Service club.

"There are 70 years of cigar smoke and fun on this thing," said Matt Egan, the man taking on the restoration task.

Inch by inch, Egan sprays, and scrubs away at smoke and grime, applying solvents to remove decade's worth of damage.

Egan says it is an honor to bring back the colors and vibrancy of the piece painted by Montanan artist Irwin "Shorty" Shope and artists in the First Special Service Force.

It is one of three works to exist, and the other two are in Pennsylvania and Florida at World War II mobilization stations.

"Not only is it an honor, but I look at it as a privilege. Shorty's work is phenomenal. His light and dark and grays are a really beautiful mix, and what he put into this art and the men and females that saw this before going to battle has got to be just a certain tribute you have to put in a higher rank," said Egan.

Completed in 1943, the piece depicts World War II mobilization units, and leading the pack, are two women in uniform which is quite interesting according to Montana Military Museum Director Raymond Read.

"This is the only one that we know of that center's female soldiers or women soldiers in the mural, and three prominent ones are standing in the middle of that mural," said Read.

The First Special Service Force and the 9th Corps Area Forward Support Group contracted the mural as a commemoration to the women and men serving at the Post at the time.

After the three-step process of removing smoke residue, filling gaps behind the mural, and touching up chips in the paint, Egan hopes to have the mural completed before the summer for the 80th anniversary of the 1st Special Service forces.

The Montana Military Museum is open Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information about the exhibits and how to volunteer can be found on their website.