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Robert M. Citino, PhD, joins Museum as Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian

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Robert M. Citino, PhD, recently joined The National WWII Museum as Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian, a job title that only hints at the many roles he’ll play here.

Robert M. Citino.

Robert M. Citino.

Consider: With Museum Senior Director of Research and History Keith Huxen, PhD, Citino will cohost the upcoming 2016 International Conference on World War II—stream it live at ww2conference.com from November 17–19—and will cap the Conference’s prelude Espionage Symposium by conducting a sure-to-be-fascinating conversation with Major General John Singlaub.

With Museum President & CEO Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, he’ll lead an exciting new 2017 Museum tour of Normandy, the Seine River, and Paris.

Dr. Citino was sparked to a lifelong interest in World War II when his father, a veteran of the Pacific war, handed him a copy of Guadalcanal Diary.

“So I sat down and read the book,” said Citino of Richard Tregaskis’s classic account of embedding with US Marines for the early stages of the battle. “From there, I couldn’t read enough books on World War II.”

He went on to write nine books of his own, with a 10th due soon. Citino comes to the Museum after academic postings at the University of North Texas, Eastern Michigan University, Lake Erie College, the US Military Academy at West Point, and the Army War College. He currently chairs the Historical Advisory Subcommittee of the Department of the Army.

Among his areas of specialization as a historian is the German military, a pursuit enhanced by his fluency in the German language, which he began to study as an undergraduate at Ohio State University. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, he went on to get advanced degrees at Indiana University. Among his many academic honors, Dr. Citino was voted the No. 1 professor in the nation on the student-populated website RateMyProfessors.com

Dr. Citino is a regular contributor to World War II magazine and other publications, and speaks about the war widely, including as a regular presenter at the International Conference. Among the  roles he’ll fill at the Museum, Dr. Citino will play a key part in the formation of the planned Institute for the Study of War and Democracy.

“I think the sky is the limit for what this place can achieve in the future,” he said.

Here’s an edited Q&A with Dr. Citino:

Q: Is there a moment you recall when you started on this path? Was there something you read, or a teacher, or one of your parents, who inspired you? I know your father was in World War II. Was there a eureka moment when you saw your path?

A: I get asked that a lot, because I’m an American who writes books on the German army, which is a kind of unusual career path perhaps. In a broader sense, in terms of World War II, you mentioned my father. My father was Army, and he fought on Guadalcanal. The word sounded so exotic to me as a little kid. What is Guadalcanal? I remember my father purchasing Richard Tregaskis’s great book, Guadalcanal Diary. Tregaskis was, at the time, what we would call an embedded reporter, for lack of a better term, with the Marine Corps on Guadalcanal. And my dad handed me this book called Guadalcanal Diary.

I was a precocious little boy. I don’t know how old I was, 4th or 5th grade maybe, but my dad told me to read this book. So I knuckled down, sat down and read the book. From there, I couldn’t read enough books on World War II. For me, oddly enough, that was my dad’s war—the Pacific war, carriers, aircraft soaring through the Pacific sky. Even today that stuff gets me going. Not in a scholarly way; I just love reading about it. You might say I’m a buff on the Pacific war. I loved reading books on World War II and that lasted all the way through high school. I went off to university—I was born in Cleveland, so I went down to Columbus—and in those days you had to take a foreign language to graduate. As you may know, that’s not necessarily true at a lot of American universities anymore. I don’t think it’s quite this flippant, I may be inventing it in my mind, but I think German was offered at a time that seemed to fit in the rest of my schedule. It wasn’t at 8 in the morning and it wasn’t 7 at night. I took German and I had an aptitude for it. I learned to read it really quickly and to read it a pretty high level. I feel thankful I was given that particular gift.


I have this WWII love and I have this language, so it was two eureka moments—my dad giving me Guadalcanal Diary and that I could access fairly sophisticated literature in another language. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I read German-language literature—archival sources, memoirs—in order to get some sense of what was going on in what Wellington famously called “the other side of the hill.”

This Museum, of course, is dedicated to the memory of the US Army and US soldier. And I’ve delved pretty deeply into those waters, as well—I’ve taught at West Point, I’ve taught at the US Army War College—I am a US military historian. But my real scholarly bona fides have been putting together that interest—that love, if you will—for studying World War II with some ability to access what the Germans thought they were doing.

When you get right down to it, it’s the most interesting question of all: a medium-sized power stuck in central Europe suddenly thought it was capable of conquering the world, and gave a pretty good impression of it in the first couple of years of the war. We look back and it all seems inevitable today that the three great powers—Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States—would crush Germany. It didn’t look inevitable at the time. And so what the Germans thought they were doing on the battlefield, how they thought they were going to construct victory in World War II: that’s what I study. Not just Hitler, but the entire military establishment; I’m much more interested in general officers down to field-grade officers than I am in Hitler.

So saying that my dad fought in World War II is not a good answer. I was born in 1958. Everybody’s dad on my street on the west side of Cleveland fought in World War II, and most of the kids my age outgrew their love of World War II and went on to other professions and other endeavors, but I never did.

Was your dad one of those guys who didn’t talk about his service?

He certainly never gave me any combat stories. My father on Guadalcanal was a medic, so I can only imagine some of the things my father saw. A medic in a jungle environment is the worst possible combination. You’re undersourced, the climate’s horrible, the insect life, the dirt level. My dad didn’t give me a lot of stories. He met Eleanor Roosevelt. She was apparently on some kind of morale-building tour of the South Pacific, maybe on New Caledonia. I’ve never really looked it up. He had a passing encounter with Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna.

In terms of combat stories, it wasn’t really a rah-rah thing. I think my dad’s experience of World War II was that it was something he had to do. Everybody had to do it, and I think he was pretty happy that World War II was over. I think that is a fairly standard view of lot of WWII veterans. Probably the ones that come to the Museum are a little more interested, or maybe at this late stage in their life are more interested in talking about it now.

When I was growing up, I heard it as a series of vignettes. They were almost never shooting or explosions or combat or dying. I just didn’t hear those stories. He didn’t seem to carry weight. I was the youngest child of five, so it’s tough to psychoanalyze your parents. My dad was a pugnacious guy. I don’t know if he was pugnacious because of his wartime experience or if he was just born that way. We’re southern Italian. Citino. That’s the toe. I always have to ask my students, because many are spatially challenged, does it look like a boot to you? Most people say, yes it does, but there’s always a few people in class who say it doesn’t. But the toe of the boot is Calabria, and one of the first phrases of Calabrian dialog I ever learned means “Calabrians have hard heads.” They’re kind of pugnacious naturally. Whether my dad was carrying the weight of his WWII experience or the weight of 5,000 years of poor peasant ancestors, which is what Calabria still is today, is an open question. He’s passed now. I tell you, when I walked into Road to Tokyo, if my dad were here, I don’t know how he’d relate to the Guadalcanal gallery. I was stunned by it and I have never set foot on Guadalcanal.

About your specialty, was it something that was unstudied in Germany after the war? Were German scholars able to study their own army?

To their credit, Germans have faced the WWII experience in a really direct and full-on way. Perhaps not immediately, but certainly in the years since 1945. It would be difficult to say that the Germans have been living in denial, compared for example to the Japanese, for whom the subject of World War II and the story of exactly what happened is still not a topic for public conversation. The Germans have faced the WWII experience.

By and large, German scholars—not popular authors, but university professors by and large—are not too interested in operations, how and why this campaign took place, what its turning points were, what its pressure points were, how it could’ve gone differently. By and large, German scholars who study war today study atrocity. They study the Holocaust. The Holocaust and World War II become one in the German public and scholarly mind. So if you’re a young scholar and you want to write another book on the Battle of Kursk, that would be a difficult sell in the German scholarly community.

I got my PhD in 1984, and that process I’m describing was already well underway. And so you can fill your bookshelf with books on the German army written by American scholars. The vast majority are written by people who don’t read German, who have no ability to access original sources in the original tongue, so there’s a lot of stuff translated. It’s not like you can’t read any German documents. The US Army interrogated virtually all of the junior top-ranking German generals all the way down sometimes to lieutenant colonels about their wartime experience, and they’re all on file at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Those interrogations, those reports, have been translated. But reading something in its original language and reading something in translation are just two different things.

I think I developed a kind of feel for military German—specific words used in specific ways; military discourse, if you want to put it that way—describing the German experience. I can say I think I was doing something different. My books are scholarly. I’ve written nine and I’m putting the finishing touches on No. 10. I’ve had pretty good luck in the scholarly community. The books I’ve written have been well-received. I’ve also managed, I think, to reach a more popular audience in perhaps a way that not every scholar does. I’m certainly not talking about a Rick Atkinson level of popularity, but within a scholarly community that has some outreach to ordinary-interest Americans, the general reading public. That’s a phrase that excites all publishers. For World War II magazine, I have a regular column that comes out every two months.

With scholarly books, you sell in the hundreds. It gets you promotion to associate professor. It gets you tenure. I’ve been fortunate in doing that. My work on the German army reads a bit different than what people are used to reading. I have a pretty cold eye. Perhaps when I was younger I was enthused about the German operational achievement. I’ve developed a colder eye as I’ve gotten older. It’s always written from the inside, which gives it a slightly different cast.

Maybe one of the most impressive things about your career is your ranking on RateMyProfessors.com. It’s an incredible achievement. One of your students wrote, “I went into this class with zero understanding of the specifics of operational warfare, and I didn’t care about it either. By midterms I was driving everyone nuts explaining the nuts-and-bolts of Israel’s Sinai campaign.”

That was my Arab-Israeli War class.

That’s as good as it gets. What’s the secret?

RateMyProfessors.com in an online service. It’s owned by MTV. That was 2007 when I was given that. It wasn’t an award, it was a rating. And then it was a publicity flurry, so it got into USA Today, something we all dream about.

It’s a self-selected group that goes online. Amongst professors, we often kind of pooh-pooh it. I take that honor for what it was. A lot of my students over the course of many, many years bothered to take time out of their busy schedules and say something nice about me online. So, I was really pleased by it. The ancillary benefit was that an MTV camera truck pulled into my driveway one day at Ypsilanti, Michigan—at the time I won it, I was at Eastern Michigan University—and I don’t think my youngest daughter cared very much about what I did for a living until I was on MTV. They filmed me. They would read me those comments and they would film what I had to say. It was very funny. Those videos, if you Google “Citino” and “MTVU”, should still be online. I even got to play Fender Telecaster. I whipped off “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, or whatever it was they asked me to play.

citinobook2You asked me what the secret is. Any answer you give to that question is probably going to sound self-serving. I really love the subject. I live and breathe the subject. It’s not something I do when I walk into a classroom and then forget when I walk out of the classroom. And it’s not just World War II. It’s history in general. I’m a historian. I’ve taught 500 students in History of Western Civilization 101 all the way to very detailed classes and graduate seminars. I really do love history. If you can’t get geeked up walking into a class to talk about World War II for 45 minutes, and you’re making pretty good bread doing so …

Maybe it’s the Italian heritage. I talk with my hands. I love talking to people. I think it’s a combination of loving that experience, loving your ability to express yourself, and then being given a topic that just became an obsession of mine from a very, very early age. I think if you read a lot of comments on RateMyProfessors.com, you hear it again and again: “The enthusiasm level of this class.” “The professor really digs this material. He really seems to be into it.” And I am. So maybe that is my secret. I was given a gift in that my talents matched up perfectly with my obsession. You know, I’d also like to be a power forward in the NBA, but that’s not happening. I had to drop that one early for a whole host of reasons.

My question was kind of a bridge to your role here at the Museum.

This is a new position, so it’s a work in progress, as I see it. I think everybody has a lot of good ideas about what the senior historian should be doing here. At the first level, I think one of the things I’m going to be doing is showing the flag, the academic and scholarly flag, for this institution, and reach perhaps some venues that it hasn’t really cracked in its 16 years of existence. I’m thinking of scholarly conferences. I give, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 public lectures, maybe more than that, a year, and a larger number of smaller talks, sometimes to local groups. I get invited by all sorts of diverse audiences. I’m flying next week to Washington, DC. General Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, read one of my books and told one of his officers, who got in touch with me. I’m addressing a seminar of very senior leaders in the Pentagon next week. So I have that scholarly side. I’m going to continue to publish books and articles, and every time I do that, there’s going to be The National WWII Museum speaking to various public groups. I have my toe in the intellectual military side, and now the Museum is going to be part of that conversation in the future.

As you know, Dr. Mueller has some pretty big ideas about this Institute for the Study of War and Democracy that we’re going to be getting underway. I don’t think the Museum will ever be a research library in the way that Harvard has a research library. You have to have hundreds of years and millions of books and another building—another 15-story building, in fact. I don’t think it’s going to do that. But it can have a role as a center of scholarship, as a clearinghouse of information, as a call of first resort for a student.

Say a graduate student wants to do something on the Home Front’s industrial mobilization. I or someone in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy could have information to answer that student or that scholar. If you need a recommendation for a good speaker on whatever topic, the first place you would call would be The National WWII Museum. That’s what I see the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy doing. I think it’s going to require people who love the Museum and love the subject matter but who also have a foot in the scholarly and public community, so you get that synergy. It’s going to part of the Museum, but the displays here are always going to be what attracts people here. Right now, I guess I’m the first investment or the first installation of what the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy is going to be.

Here’s why I think the work is important, if you don’t mind me riffing off of your question. I love the operational side. That’s what I write. That’s what I’m really excited about. But the war is a big story, and in essence the war is about human freedom and human liberation. If World War II had been lost and the other side had won World War II, the globe would be a very different place. I know the Museum is going to have a Liberation Pavilion. If you look at how a place like America, or Western Europe, has changed since 1945 and the end of the war, it’s essentially been a story of individual liberation. It’s kind of messy. We don’t often like it. I know that for as many people who loved the 1960s in America, there was an equal number who hated them. Polling numbers for the Vietnam War, if they ever fell below 50 percent, I’d be surprised. I don’t have those numbers, but support for the war was always very high.

At any rate, people began to do their own thing, and you couldn’t be doing your own thing in a world run by the fascists. The Museum will always be about the operational side. I think that’s the heart and soul of what goes on here. Road to Tokyo, Road to Berlin—man, those are going to be bringing audiences in forever. But the Museum has to represent the broadcast possible meaning of World War II. We should be open to all approaches, and all themes, and I think the sky’s the limit for what this place can achieve in the future.

What kind of a Museum dedicated to World War II, with Higgins boats and aircraft everywhere, also puts up a Canopy of Peace? To me, when I heard that, that was the greatest thing I ever heard. I came here for my interview and saw them laying the pile caps. Unbelievable.

The Peace Canopy is nonfunctional. It doesn’t do anything, but it says something. While we celebrate the memory of the heroes who fought World War II, I don’t think anybody should really celebrate the war. The fact that a war had to be fought to maintain our basic freedoms is a human tragedy. It just shows how little we’ve progressed, not how far we’ve come. And that’s why I think putting up the Canopy of Peace is such a great thing for this Museum. I was really, really impressed when I saw they were doing it.

Story by Dave Walker, communications manager at The National WWII Museum.

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Elise Ventura, Museum Collections Intern

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Museum Intern Elise Ventura at work in the Museum vault re-housing an A-2 flight jacket.

The National WWII Museum is fortunate to have an extraordinary corps of over 250 volunteers and interns that offer valuable service and insight on a variety of projects and programs throughout our organization. Over the summer the Collections and Exhibits Department had the wonderful opportunity to host Elise Ventura, an intern through the French Heritage Society Exchange Program. Elise came to us from the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and was a huge help to us. Her primary project during her internship was the reorganization and re-housing of a portion of our flight jacket collection. Upon completion of her internship, Elise wrote about her experience here at the Museum in the following blog post. We hope you enjoy it.

-Lowell Bassett, Collections Manager, The National WWII Museum


I had just graduated in art history, museology and collection care from the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and was looking for a summer internship abroad when I found out about the French Heritage Society Exchange Program. This American association, dedicated to the preservation of the French architecture in the United States, offered four internships in New Orleans. Among those internships was one at The National WWII Museum. Because of my family history and my personal interest for the era, this was the only internship that I applied for. Once I learned that I was selected, the Museum’s Collections Manager, Lowell Bassett, quickly got in touch with me to let me know I was accepted and that he would be working with me. On my very first day at the Museum, Lowell introduced me to the basic principles of preservation for textiles and leather and he gave me an overview of my particular project: The re-housing of a portion of the Museum’s flight jacket collection. Later that day I was given a tour of the storage vault by Larry Decuers, one of the Museum’s knowledgeable curators, who acquainted me with the history and models of the different types of jackets that I would be working with.

The National WWII Museum owns a large collection of flight jackets of various models such as the A-2, 422-A, B-3, B-10 and B-15. These jackets made of poplin, leather, sheepskin and wool are very susceptible to damage from light, climate, and pests. For preservation and exhibit purposes their display within the Museum rotates quite often. Only a small portion of the collection is displayed in the different pavilions at any one time. The main venue for the jackets is in display cases among the “Warbirds” displayed in the Museum’s 26,000 square foot US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The majority of the remaining collection of jackets is housed in climate-controlled storage in the Museum’s vault. As a summer intern, my mission was to locate various jackets in the different areas of the Museum’s vault, re-house those jackets in acid-free boxes and pad them with acid-free paper to avoid any hard creases or folds. Once the jackets were all properly stuffed and labeled as well as the boxes containing them, I was tasked with reorganizing a specific cabinet in the vault in which to store and consolidate them. I was also tasked with creating condition reports and reference photography of the jackets I was working with. To complete the process, I had to record all of these changes by entering the new information into the Museum’s collection management system, KE-Emu.

Working in this amazing museum for two months and having the opportunity to handle such interesting items was an incredible experience for me. I was proud to take part in the preservation of these flight jackets. The whole project became an engaging history lesson on these particular museum artifacts. I learned that the jackets originally were created as standardized military uniforms and many became mediums for the young airmen’s colorful personalities. Jackets were sometimes personalized by their owners with leather patches indicating the squadron or bomb group they were in and some had amazing designs on the back featuring pin-ups, cartoon characters, planes and bombs. It would seem that familiar cartoons, glamorous pin-ups and names of loved ones were meant to give the airmen a sense of comfort and reassure them during their missions. Other, more menacing images, such as pirate flags or ferocious animals might be seen as magical charms for protection and strength during the sorties that claimed so many lives. The rarity of the highly decorated A-2 is hard to stress: While over 1,000,000 A-2 jackets were produced during World War II only 10-15% depicted images of art or patches. Of that number only a small portion survived the war and made it to present-day collections intact.


A-2 Flying Jacket of 1st Lt. Armando J. Sinibaldo painted on the back with pin-up girl and 35 bombs along with Berwin Darlin’. The front left chest is painted with “A.J. Sinibaldo” and has a leather sewn-on patch for the 91st Bombardment Group. Gift of the Sinibaldo Family. 2013.230.001.

Throughout my internship I was constantly reminded that these “men” who fought and died for their country in World War II were extremely young and their customized jackets were often a symbol of their young age. After being stripped of their identities and individuality in training, many expressed their youth and sense of humor on these jackets and often on their planes (many nose art images were painted by the same artist as the jackets). Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, many civilians enlisted in the military increasing the personalization of the jackets with motifs of American pop culture. The war would mark a heavy toll on these young airmen. Losses were so heavy during the early years of the War that from 1942 to 1943 it was statistically impossible for a heavy bomber crew in the 8th Air Force to complete their 25 mission tour. By the end of World War II over 40,000 airmen had been killed in combat theater and over 23,000 aircraft had been lost.

Having the opportunity to work with a portion of the flight jacket collection and learning about the jackets’ owners was a real honor and extremely touching. One of the most memorable and emotional parts of my internship was having an opportunity to meet one of the families of one of the veterans. One day, as I was working in the vault, Lowell asked me to retrieve an A-2 flight jacket for a veteran’s family who stopped by the Museum. The family wanted to see the jacket their grandfather had donated a few years earlier. We presented them with the jacket and it was one of the more beautiful examples I had worked with during my internship. The back of the jacket depicted a gorgeously rendered pin-up as well as 30 bombs indicating 30 combat missions. The family was delighted to see that the jacket was being well taken care of and that it was being treated as both an artifact and artwork. They commented on the respect that was being shown to its previous owner their grandfather and how well it was being preserved in the Museum’s vault. I came to realize that the re-housing project was not just about preserving the flight jackets but above all about preserving the memories of the young and brave airmen who wore them. In the end I think the true goal of my project was to help to make sure that these wonderful pieces of history were properly stored so that they could tell their stories to future generations.

The internship with The National WWII Museum was an invaluable experience for me. It provided me with an opportunity to learn more about World War II in an extraordinary setting with a rich collection. It inspired me to pursue my studies in collection management and perhaps apply for a position abroad in the future. Thank you very much National World War II Museum for this incredible opportunity!

-Elise Ventura, Museum Collections Intern

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Bringing Charity to Life

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An ambulance moves past a destroyed German fortress at Terracina, Italy on 26 May 1944.

An ambulance moves past the rubble of a destroyed German fortress at Terracina, Italy on 26 May 1944. 2002.337.576. U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph, Gift of Regan Forrester, from the Collection of The National World War II Museum.

During WWII the US military had thousands of vehicles at its disposal. All were made possible by the “Arsenal of Democracy” that President Roosevelt referenced in his 1940 speech. As WWII progressed, so did the US manufacturing of weapons, vehicles, and war matériel. This subject is detailed marvelously in the current exhibition Manufacturing Victory: The Arsenal of Democracy on view now through May 31, 2015 in the Joe W. and Dorothy D. Brown Foundation Special Exhibit Gallery.

Deployed alongside the multitude of vehicles, boats, and airplanes that were used on the front lines were the soldier/mechanics that kept the machines running smoothly or at least patched them up and helped get them back in the fight. These soldiers’ ingenuity and tenacity were the stuff of legend. Often working on little sleep, without proper tools or materials, and under intense pressure, they did what they had to do to keep bringing the war to the enemy.

Here at The National WWII Museum, we are fortunate to have our own mechanic that not only keeps our fleet of historic vehicles running but also restores some of the Museum’s soon to be seen vehicles. Most days of the week you can find Joey Culligan, a retired NASA employee of 30 years, working away in our warehouse on a tank, truck or jeep. Joey’s current challenge is restoring a WC-9 Field Ambulance (2005.007.001) to its former glory. Nicknamed Charity, the ambulance was purchased by the Museum in 2005 with funds raised by the Charity Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. The funds for the restoration were made possible through a generous donation by Tom, Lois, and Leo Knudson in honor of Edith M. Rubright “Ruby” Knudson Key.

Joey Culligan at work on Charity's engine.

Joey Culligan at work on Charity’s engine.

Charity weighs about 5600lbs, has a payload of 1000lbs (hence the ½ ton designation) and gets 12 miles to the gallon on a 78 horsepower, six cylinder engine. The ambulance’s 55mph top speed never seemed quite fast enough for the ambulance drivers or their passengers. The ambulance could carry four stretchers or seven seated patients and a two person crew. Charity is one of 2,288 WC-9s that were built in 1941 by the Dodge Division of the Chrysler Corporation. Ambulance crews were a very busy breed. The 68th Medical Group supported the First Army in the ETO from June 1944 to May 1945 during which their ambulances traveled 2.6 million miles and transported over 200,000 patients.[i]

The current plan is to restore Charity to resemble a WC-9 that would have been assigned to a medical group in Italy in 1943. While the exact date for completion of the project has yet to be revealed, Joey is busy getting Charity into working order. We promise to check in with him on Charity’s progress as she nears completion.


Ginn, Richard V.N. The History of the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General and Center of Military History United States Army, 1997. p.139

Posted by Lowell Bassett, Collections Manager at The National WWII Museum.

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Intern Spotlight: Laurel Taylor, Education Department

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Why intern at the WWII Museum even if you’re not a history major?

As a literature major, having spent the majority of my fall semester analyzing gothic novels from the 1790s, I thought I’d take a chance and apply for an internship at The National World War II Museum. Coming off a losing streak at landing a job, I was pleasantly surprised when the Museum offered me an interview. However, I was soon mortified. As the interview approached, I played through nightmarish versions of the interview: “What’s your favorite WWII moment?” “Um, when it was over…” “Who were the Allied leaders?” “…the US?” “What year was Pearl Harbor?” “That was in Hawaii…” I couldn’t remember anything I had learned about World War II! I’m not a history major, so clearly I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge to command this job.

I couldn’t be more wrong. When I finally interviewed, they explained that I didn’t need to know everything about World War II. I came with my own set of skills – researching and writing; and I would learn the history, just like all the staff, interns, and volunteers who continue to learn new things every day. My first day included exploring the museum and getting into all the special features, like the Beyond All Boundaries movie, free! Since that day, no matter what I’ve been assigned to work on, I haven’t stopped learning. Working at any museum means you are eager to learn, and to enhance the learning experience of others.

And if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that World War II, like all history, is inherently interdisciplinary. Do you study music? The 1940s were a golden age for songwriting, and many songs were directly influenced by and commenting on the war. Like gardening? Victory gardens, arising due to rationing during the war, produced about 1/3 of the vegetables grown in the United States (the museum also has one of its own!). Interested in African-American history? The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the US Armed Forces, risking their lives (with an amazing record of success) despite segregation in the military and Jim Crow laws at home. Fan of Russian literature? Check out the socialist realism from the 1930s. Women’s studies minor? WWII was crucial in the movement of women from the domestic to the industrial realm. Can’t learn enough about business? World War II meant total war, ending the Great Depression through increased production and jobs.  

Marxist? Vegan? Pacifist? The point is – if you’re interested in anything, you’re interested in World War II. An experience interning at this museum will change your life. It will open your eyes to the incredible significance of an event like World War II, and how it has shaped the world today as we know it. Whatever your skills or interests, history aside, there’s something here for you. I hate/love to sound like a WWII propaganda poster, but we want YOU at the National World War II Museum, even if you can’t immediately find Peleliu – the location of the bloodiest amphibious battle in the Pacific Theater – on a world map.

Trick question! It’s now called Palau. But you’ll know that soon!

Learn more about becoming an intern at The National WWII Museum and how to apply here.

laurel taylor

Posted by Laurel Taylor, Education Intern

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Understanding D-Day: Travel to Normandy

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The Invasion of Normandy from the National Archives.

The best way to learn about historical events is to actually visit the sites where those events took place.

As the Director of the Museum’s Travel Programs, I can speak with some authority on this.  My years here at The National WWII Museum have taken me from London, to the beaches of Normandy, through Belgium and Luxembourg, into Germany and Austria, along the French Riviera and the “boot” of Italy, and even through the Philippine Islands.

But my very first visit to Normandy, on our 2005 Victory in Europe Tour, is the one that always stand out the most.

I had studied D-Day for 10 years, watching all of the movies and documentaries; reading the best books on the subject; listening to the stories of the WWII veterans who were actually there, but I learned more in one minute of standing on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach than in the previous 10 years combined.

Perspective.  This was a word that kept floating in my head during the tour and after when people asked me what I learned on the trip.  No matter how much you have analyzed and studied photos and maps, only being on the ground can bring these sites to life.  The only word I could come up with was perspective.

I saw D-Day through the perspective of the men storming ashore and the near-impossible task that lay ahead of them.  Most importantly though was the perspective from the German side of the beaches.  Positioned atop the bluff, just outside of the Normandy American Cemetery grounds, one can imagine what it would have been like for the soldier manning the defensive positions awaiting the armada to unload its human cargo.

Easy.  That was another word I kept coming back to.  How “easy” it must have been for the defenders to unleash their own private hell on the GIs who made it off of their Higgins Boat.

Though I have returned to Normandy every year since that tour in 2005, I still am overcome by a wave of pride, sorrow and wonderment at what the American soldiers faced, suffered and achieved on that June day.

And I am still amazed at how much more there is for me to learn about D-Day.

Over the years, the National WWII Museum has brought guests over to Normandy and has developed wonderful connections with locals.  These connections have flourished into friendships with tour guides, various museums, and individual civilians who provide our tours with wonderful assistance and access.

You too may join the National WWII Museum and our friends in Normandy on a journey this fall on our    D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy & Liberation of France Tour that takes history buffs on a one of kind travel experience hitting all the spots the Allies conquered.  Learn more about how you may join the tour here:  http://www.ww2museumtours.org/normandy/


Blog by Jeremy Collins, Director of Travel & Conference Services at the National WWII Museum.

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Spotlight on Staff – Delicious History

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Visitors to The National WWII Museum expect to see artifacts and exhibits, but they are often surprised to find a very delicious history lesson where they least expect it – in the Museum’s American Sector Restaurant and on-site Soda Shop.  Both venues harken back to the war years with decor and atmosphere, but often the food is part of the history too. Award-winning Chef John Besh and Executive Chef Jeffrey Mattia find their inspiration in the staples of American food and the influences the war had on bringing global cuisine back to America with the returning troops.

Recently Mattia was named a finalist in the Gambit Weekly Emerging Chefs Challenge. He will compete with 11 other rising stars in the culinary world for the title on August 28, 2013, and we will be there cheering him on!

You can sample the Chef’s work daily at the American Sector (11 am-9 pm) and the Soda Shop (7 am-5:30 pm) or as part of our monthly Dinner with a Curator Series, pairing presentations by Museum staff on a wide array of topics related to WWII with a specially “curated” three-course meal.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Eric Rivet presents “Star Wars: WWII in a Galaxy Far, Far Away,” 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Although the Star Wars movies present a futuristic galaxy of space combat and laser guns, nearly all of the weapons and many of the props used in the original trilogy are World War I and World War II firearms and field equipment. The National WWII Museum has examples of most of these weapons in its collection, including the types of guns carried by Han Solo and Boba Fett and the lightsaber used by Luke Skywalker. Join Curator Eric Rivet for a discussion of the weapons and equipment used in the Star Wars films and see them for yourself.

Purchase tickets for Dinner with a Curator.

About Chef Jeffrey Mattia

Jeff Mattia is the Executive Chef at American Sector, the John Besh restaurant in The National WWII Museum. Growing up in Connecticut, his passion for cooking started at a young age when he would accompany his grandfather on fishing trips on Long Island Sound. Following high school, Jeff joined the United States Marine Corps, during which he had the opportunity to travel the Mediterranean region and learn about their cuisine. Following his service, Jeff returned to the United States and enrolled in Johnson & Wales University to complete their culinary arts degree program. After graduating, he worked at several prestigious restaurants in the Northeast, before moving to New Orleans with his family in 2010, where he had taken a position at Restaurant August as executive sous chef. Jeff became the sous chef at American Sector in the summer of 2011, and was named executive chef in 2012.

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Spotlight on Staff – An Unlikley Curator

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The July 12, 2013, Times-Picayune featured a story on an “exhibit” that many guests might miss on their visit to the Museum. Nestled among the bottles of liquor behind the bar at the Museum restaurant, the American Sector, are a collections of bottles and containers that have a very real and tangible link to history. Curated by bartender, Billy Vincent, the sand comes from Iwo Jima, Omaha Beach and the sites of 18 other D-Days. If was collected by visitors, Museum volunteers, staff, restaurant patrons and anyone who has heard about the collection and it is growing all the time. “There were 121 Pacific invasion sites,” Vincent said, ‘but I’m really looking for sand from the North Africa and Italy campaigns.”

Read the full article and see more photos of the collection.

Billy Vincent has been with the Museum since 2009. He is a proud veteran of the US Marine Corps.


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