My parents and I recently drove roundtrip from Albuquerque, NM to St. Augustine, FL over a two-week period. We made a point to stay off the interstates as much as possible, preferring to see as much of “real” America as possible. We visited military installations, museum and historic sites and crossed through the flood-ravaged and tornado-strafed communities. We saw many small towns obviously suffering through economic crises.
No matter where we went, American Pride was evident. Not just expressed in grand monuments and national parks (although we saw it there too)– it was expressed in smaller gestures–a military branch bumper sticker or yellow ribbon decal displayed on a car, gift shops selling service flags and military T-shirts; flags flying in people’s yards. Every small town we visited has a street or park honoring Veterans or a memorial dedicated to its local warriors who have served and/or perished in wars long (and not-so-long) ago. Several towns we visited have markers commemorating Revolutionary or Civil War battles fought nearby. Placards to the Army Corps of Engineers are everywhere.
We left Albuquerque on May 18 and headed east. We drove across the Mississippi River as it crested in the greater Vicksburg area. Like most Americans, we watched in horror as storms tore across our nation’s midsection and the floodwaters rose to record levels. The stories of suffering and sadness were hard to fathom, but it was heartening to see communities pull together to overcome tragedy.
In Vicksburg, there was a National Guard presence—as well as that of the Red Cross, FEMA and other first responders. In town, people were plucky, stoic and trying to carry on “business as usual”. So we took our cue and visited some historic sites.
The National Military Park and Cemetery in Vicksburg, MS, is a fascinating and sobering testimony of how the Civil War played out–literally in the backyards of common, everyday people who happened to live where the “line in the sand” was drawn.
In St. Augustine, Florida, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos, now a National Park Service monument (constructed between 1672 -1756). Originally built by the Spanish to protect their part of America, the fortress has served under six different flags and has housed troops through the Spanish-American War. The British held the Fort during the Revolutionary War; Indian prisoners were confined there during the Seminole War of 1835-42; Confederate troops occupied it during the Civil War, and it was last used as a military prison during the Spanish-American War.
In Tupelo, MS, the National Park Service has preserved a one-acre battlefield site, making a mini memorial commemorating the battle of Tupelo. There is not even parking by the roadside monument, but we dashed across the street to read the information markers.
So many national historic sites—so little time!
As we drove across the States, we made a point to visit some military installations—some which had personal significance for me. My husband, Bill, and I had lived just outside of Ft. Sill, OK, while he attended Field Artillery School—and 27 years later, I was still able to find our apartment complex, the Artillery School and many of the other places we used to frequent. At Eglin AFB, we found the EOD school where Bill spent some time in 1991-1992 and visited the all-wars memorial. We detoured to Ft Benning, GA, where Bill graduated from Officer’s Candidate School in 1988. While there, we toured the magnificent Infantry Museum. It was worth the stop. One of our friends had told us about the military family gallery and suggested we check it out. We left inspired.
We drove around Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, LA base, checking it out. We stocked up on groceries at the commissary. A commissary is a commissary is a commissary—I knew I’d be able to get my familiar, favorite brands there—things I can’t always find on the local economy. I bet many military families on vacation stop at the local military installations, either to revisit their past, or to compare them to other places they’ve been stationed.
It’s been a whirlwind of history. Ten very different states—with ten distinctive personalities–all rich in military history and chock-full of American pride. Wherever we went, we shared our vision and hopes about the Museum of the American Military Family. The people we spoke to were encouraging and positive.
I write this article on Memorial Day weekend. Although this holiday has been somewhat diminished by huge retail sales, gas price gouging, and endless traffic jams; I think most Americans do understand what Memorial Day is all about. They “get” it.
As we contemplate the sacrifices made by American Warriors across history, we should consider these facts:
4,500 Americans died in the American Revolutionary War*
600,000 Americans died in the Civil War*
116,500 Americans died in WWI*
450,000 Americans died in WWII*
53,650 Americans died in the Korean War*
58,150 Americans died in Vietnam*
4,454 American soldiers have died so far in Iraq**
1,595 American soldiers have died so far in Afghanistan**
These numbers do not reflect civilian support staff, contractors, journalists, or soldiers who died later as a result of wounds sustained in combat. These numbers don’t show the numbers of those who have been wounded or developed combat-related illnesses.
This Memorial Day, sit down with a Veteran and ask him or her to share a story or two about his or her service. Then ask their family to share their stories. Both groups share the same story—but from different perspetives.
This is what we at the Museum of the American Military Family want to explore: History as seen through the unique perspective of the Service Member’s family.
Please help us capture history through your family’s story. E-mail: Militaryfamilymuseum@comcast.net for more information.
Circe Olson Woessner, Executive Director
* from Baking Recipes from Wives & Mothers of Civil War Heroes, Heroines & Other Notables by Robert W. Pelton
**from AntiWar.com (accessed May 29, 2011)
The Museum of the American Military Family came into being one winter night as I sat watching the news, thinking about my Army son deployed overseas. I tried to imagine being in his circumstances, and ended up scaring myself more than anything else. Like so many military moms, I hope my son will serve his country proudly, carry out the mission successfully and come home safe, sound, in one piece—and soon.
It occurred to me at that instant, other military moms were having the same thoughts as I. In fact, millions of other military mothers and military spouses, regardless of nationality, or where they were located on the globe, were having similar wishes and hopes for their loved ones.
And I thought: we military families are tough. We hold it together for the sake of our kids, for our spouses, for our parents–and for ourselves! If we fall apart, it affects our troops, and indirectly, the mission. So when the chips are down, we grit our teeth, brace ourselves and keep on going. Ever since there have been armies, there have been families supporting them–and supporting each other.
That’s when I got the idea: someone should dedicate a museum to the military family! And then the second thought: Maybe I should dedicate a museum to the military family.
And so the Museum of the American Military Family was born.
Right now, the museum is in its infancy—we incorporated in March 2011, formed a board of directors, created a mission statement, wrote our bylaws and our business plan. In April, we launched the virtual museum and on May 6, we created our Facebook page.
We are marching forward towards our goal of having a physical museum space in the Albuquerque Metro area by 2013.
So, how can you help?
Initially, we are a virtual museum, which means that all of our collections will be on-line. To keep the museum site dynamic, we need to continually add posts to our Facebook page, populate our photo galleries and our blogs. We have three: this one—which is the official museum news page, “Peanut Butter, Passports, and Pedagogy” about schooling overseas and “We Served Too—a Forum for Military Families”.
We’d like you to send your photos and memories to us. Please visit our Facebook page. Sign our guest book. And most of all, spread the word!
Some people ask if they can give us uniforms or other memorabilia, and the answer is “yes—but not yet.” We are in the process of locating a physical museum space, but until we have funding and support we can’t move into a permanent location. So, please hold on to your treasures for a little longer. We will post a donation form on our website when we’re ready.
We’d like your digital media—photos, videos, audio recordings as well as your written memories right now. If you’ve made a You Tube recording or have been interviewed for topics relevant to this museum, please let us know. If we feel that they are appropriate, we’ll post them. (Please make sure you have clear rights/or the permission to distribute the media.)
Some people have indicated they’d like to write a short memory but don’t know where to start. I have added a page to this news site with possible writing prompts.
Please join us on our journey—one that spans 200+ years—from the Revolutionary War into the future. Help us tell the story of the American Military Family!
Thank you for all your support and encouragement,
Circe Olson Woessner, Executive Director