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!
The National WWII Museum offers a variety of opportunities to travel in the footsteps of those who fought. This blog is part of a series devoted to an April 2015 trip which brought Museum staff and volunteers, to the scenes of the Battle of the Bulge. One of the largest and costliest battles the US Army would fight, the Bulge was Hitler’s last desperate attempt to stop the Allied drive in western Europe in the cold winter months of December 1944 and January 1945. Nearly one million soldiers were engaged during the six-week battle, resulting in 67,000 American and more than 100,000 German casualties.
Eleven of the 67,000 casualties were African American soldiers, members of the segregated 333rd Field Artillery Battalion (FAB) who were murdered by the 1st SS Division against the rules of the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of war. Seven of the Wereth 11 are buried at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery which our group visited on Day 1 and which is the subject of the first blog post in this series.
Wereth, Belgium. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael. Photos Courtesy of Alan Raphael
Museum volunteers & staff in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
On December 17, 1944– the second day of fighting during the Battle of the Bulge– most of the 333rd FAB was overrun by the Germans (along with the 106th Infantry Division who they were supporting) and were taken prisoner. Eleven managed to escape capture and after walking through heavy snow for miles with the hope of making it back to American lines sought shelter at a farmhouse in Wereth, Belgium. The family brought them inside and offered hot food, but this shelter lasted only a brief moment, as it is thought that they had been exposed to the SS. They were marched into a field where they were brutally beaten and finally, killed. Their corpses would remain in the field, covered in ice and snow, until early February. This war crime would be part of a series of war crimes perpetuated on prisoners of war and on civilians known as the Malmedy Massacre, which counted nearly 500 victims.
The Museum will highlight African American service and sacrifice in our upcoming Special Exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII. Stay tuned for more in the series on the April tour of Museum staff and volunteers to the Ardennes region. For more information about the tours offered by the Museum, see The National WWII Museum Tours.
Today’ we’re spotlighting one of the Museum’s outstanding Victory Corps Youth Volunteers, Rebekah Bass. Rebekah has served with the Victory Corps program since the Spring of 2013. In addition to interacting with Museum guests at artifact-encounter stations dispersed throughout the campus, providing an up-close and ‘hands-on’ experience to Saturday visitors, Rebekah has participated in the Museum’s summer residential Normandy Academy program. She has also helped conduct oral history interviews for the Museum’s See You Next Year!: High School Yearbooks From WWII collection. Rebekah is just one of many dedicated young people helping to make The National WWII Museum a dynamic and exciting place.
See Rebekah Bass’ oral history interview with veteran Tommy Godchaux below:
Congratulations to those volunteers who achieved noteworthy milestones in their volunteer hours during the months of January and February!
8000 Hours, Gold Three-Star:
2000 Hours, Silver Star:
Jimmy Fried, Tom O’Brien, Randy Smith
1000 Hours, Blue Star:
David Bergeron, Georges Maillot, Pete Parrott
500 Hours, White Star:
Larry Figallo, Patty Frazier, Ellis Johnson, Jr., Nancy Killeen, Bob Mayre, Collin McPeak, JoAnn Sens
100 Hours, Red Star:
Jacques Boudreaux, Michael Cahill, Brad Davis, Eston Fain, Patrick Galiano, Nicholas Giambelluca, Jr., Debbie Griffin, Lee Huebner, Jessica Huryk, Robert Johnson, John Miller, Paulette Rinkle, Phil Rinkle, Cheryl Schaneville, Bob Smith, Cameron Smith, Jeff Smoyer, Lisa Valence
Roland “Tiger” Hymel receives his gold Four-Star pin from Dr. Mueller
Longtime volunteer Roland “Tiger” Hymel recently became the third volunteer in the Museum’s history to contribute 10,000 hours of volunteer service.
Tiger has been volunteering for over ten years and has performed many different tasks around the Museum, including selling memberships, collecting marketing surveys, and monitoring crowds in the Museum galleries. A Vietnam War veteran and a former New Orleans firefighter, Tiger is also very active with the Boy Scouts and always volunteers to help at the Museum for our annual Boy Scout Day. Congratulations Tiger for reaching such a remarkable milestone!
They are the living connection to the war experience. For the National WWII Museum and its visitors, the WWII veterans who volunteer their time, sharing memories and insights, are golden.
But those who can still donate their time are dwindling in number as their celebrated generation gradually fades from the scene. Only one of every 16 Americans who served is still living.
“These people bring it to life,” said William Detweiler, the Museum’s consultant for military affairs. “They don’t brag about what they did. They’re the connection – their stories.”
The Museum still has 31 WWII veteran volunteers on its rolls, down from a high of roughly 100 soon after the institution opened in 2000. A good representation – 16 from the beloved 31 – came to the American Sector on Wednesday, December 4, to enjoy a tribute lunch with President & CEO Nick Mueller and others. (Two of our most well known veteran volunteers, Bert Stolier and Tom Blakey, were away at a Rotary Club speaking engagement.)
The luncheon crowd had a rousing good time. Then the elderly volunteers proudly lined up for a picture – and nearly brought the restaurant to a standstill, as onlookers grabbed cameras. One of them so moved, American Sector bartender Billy Vincent, said later, “The time to honor them is short.”
Standing in front of a George Rodrigue painting of two World War II icons, Dwight D. Eisenhower and New Orleans boat-builder Andrew Higgins, were, back row, left to right: Andrew Konnerth, Jimmy Dubuisson, Dutch Prager, Gene Geisert, Ross Gamble, Bob Wolf, Tommy Godchaux, Dan Cantor and Jimmy Fried. Those seated, left to right, were: C. Johnny Difatta, Lloyd Campo, Bill Cassady, John Rogers, Bowdre Mc Dowell, John Capretto and Jerry Gervais.
The Museum salutes these special volunteers and all they represent!
Twenty-seven volunteers recently received special recognition from Dr. Mueller at the annual President’s Luncheon for Outstanding Volunteers. The luncheon originally began as a way to honor the individuals with the most cumulative volunteer hours, but has grown to include other volunteers who have made noteworthy contributions in furthering the Museum’s mission.
This year, the Education, Membership, Visitor Services, and Collections Departments each nominated several volunteers who have gone above and beyond in their service to the Museum. Whether leading outstanding tours, providing exceptional customer service, or working tirelessly to help restore our collection of artifacts, these volunteers have stood out for their dedication and enthusiasm. Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees!
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.