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Museum’s Post-Katrina Defender Now Advancing Its Mission

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IMG_2124Louisiana National Guard Staff Sergeant Patrick Stephen already was fond of The National WWII Museum on Andrew Higgins Boulevard, having visited repeatedly, when Hurricane Katrina struck the city a decade ago, ushering in a time of misery and chaos.

That sentiment – an appreciation for the Museum’s mission – surfaced in a forceful way a few weeks after Katrina made landfall, when Stephen, part of an Army Guard unit protecting the Morial Convention Center and storm victims gathered there, noticed a smattering of individuals wearing fresh t-shirts from the institution then known as The National D-Day Museum. “I knew it was a problem,” he recalls.

Stephen got clearance from a superior to briefly leave his post. He gathered six other guardsmen, said, “We’re going to go on a mission,” and the group piled into two Humvees and headed toward the Museum several blocks away. As they pulled up, they noticed that a falling telephone pole had collapsed a wall of the Museum’s gift shop. A small crowd had gained entry to the store and looting was in full swing.

The guardsmen quickly dispersed the looters and secured the shop. One episode of mayhem was halted. And later, Stephen kept an eye on the Museum from his assigned zone at the convention center, watching the street corridor for any new signs of trouble.

Stephen isn’t eager to summon memories of harrowing scenes that his 239th Military Police Company faced as it helped restore order in a devastated city. But the episode at America’s WWII museum holds special meaning, for the part-time guardsman now serves proudly as one of the Museum’s traveling oral historians.
It is a dream job for Stephen, 37, who graduated from a history master’s program at the University of New Orleans. His work with the Museum began in June.

Traveling to three states, Stephen has already logged more than 40 oral history interviews, part of a concerted effort by the Museum to add to its collection of more than 7,000 personal accounts from the war. The recording of these stories is foundational to the institution’s mission, building on interviews conducted by Stephen Ambrose decades ago.

“I believe in the Museum,” Patrick Stephen said. “If I believe in it, it’s easy for me to go on the road (and meet with veterans). I don’t even have to sell them – I just tell them about the Museum, and they can see my conviction.”

A native of Gainesville, Florida, Stephen has periodically served on active duty with the Army since the late 1990s, including a tour of Kuwait and Afghanistan. Still affiliated with the Louisiana Guard, he now is a 1st lieutenant serving as a military intelligence officer.

Stephen said an internship at the Museum in 2013, during which he gathered information on the Museum’s WWII veteran volunteers, convinced him it was the place to seek a position after grad school. He now enjoys running into ranking Army officers he has known from past tours, who are quick to say, “Tell me about this awesome job you have.”

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