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!
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 Democracyon 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.
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.
Maintenance Manual 1/2 Ton 4x4 Chassis Dodge Trucks built for United States Army, TM 10-1123/1443
Detail of Destination Home and Peace Mural (banner) painted in Germany by Cpl. Norman E. Linn of the 79th Division. Gift of the 314th Infantry Association WWII. 1999.115.001.
I am often asked about the variety of items we receive in the Collections & Exhibits Department from donors to the Museum. Donations run the gamut; from weapons, uniforms, and flags to letters, scrapbooks, and photographs. Sometimes collections come to us with little or no information, this can make for some fun and yet exhausting research by our curators, archivists, and collections staff. Other collections come to the Museum heavily researched and with a thorough provenance. Then there are those rare and serendipitous occasions in which one collection seems to provide insight to another.
Marlene Dietrich and Marvin Ryman in Europe in March 1944. Photograph courtesy of Bill Ryman.
A few months ago, we performed a condition check on an item in our holdings. The item was a banner that had been painted in France by Cpl. Norman E. Lin and was donated to the Museum by J.J. Witmeyer and the 314th Infantry Association WWII. The immense banner was well preserved and the colors seemed as bright as the day they were painted by Cpl. Lin back in 1945. The banner celebrated the stateside return of the US Army’s 79th Infantry Division, nicknamed the Cross of Lorraine Division for their exceptional effort in France during WWI. During WWII the 79th came ashore in Normandy a few weeks after D-Day and fought their way through France, Belgium and then into Germany. After inspecting the banner and conducting a condition report, we snapped a few photos and returned it to our vault. We assumed that the banner was used onboard a ship but we were unsure on the details and we all wanted to know more about this object.
Enter the Marvin Ryman Collection. About a month ago, Bill Ryman, a visitor from Kansas City, Missouri, dropped by the Museum to ask if we were interested in his father’s wartime scrapbook. Bill’s father, Marvin Ryman, had served with the 84th Infantry Division in Europe and had shot several photographs during his time in service. The 84th hit Omaha Beach in November of 1944 and fought their way through the Netherlands and into Germany, then to Belgium, and then returned to Germany until the end of the war. The photos highlighted Ryman’s military journey from start to finish. The images included photos from his initial training and even one of Ryman with Marlene Dietrich.
One tiny picture in particular stopped us all in our tracks. It was an image that Ryman had made on 28 November 1945 in Marseilles, France prior to boarding the SS CCNY Victory for his trip back to the United States. How is this for a photo? Anything look familiar on the side of the ship?
As I mentioned, sometimes collections can offer clues that help us with other collections.
“Boarding ship U.S.S City College New York to leave Marseilles, France for home.” Photograph courtesy of Bill Ryman.
Posted by Lowell Bassett, Collections Manager at The National WWII Museum.
Photographs courtesy of Bill Ryman and The National WWII Museum.
As the Collections Manager at The National WWII Museum, I am allowed the privilege of interacting with collection donors, often WWII veterans and their families. This is one of my favorite parts of the job. These collections almost always come to us with a story. Here is one story that I’d like to share.
In 1944, Ann Lehman was eight years old when her brother Alfred enlisted in the Army and shipped off for Europe along with his friend Marvin Harman. Ann’s mother Henrietta was a widow that worked hard to take care of her family in Forest Hills, Queens, New York.
Alfred and Ann Lehman in Providence, Rhode Island, Thanksgiving 1944. Gift in Memory of Alfred Lehman, 2013.342
After Alfred’s death in 2006, Ann donated her brother’s wartime scrapbook to the Museum. The scrapbook tells the story of Alfred’s journey through Europe with Company K of the Army’s 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division. Alfred saw fierce action during the Battle of the Bulge and after the war returned home to his family in New York. She included a few additional family photos taken just prior to her brother shipping out as well as one showing a proud Ruth Harman with her smiling 18-year-old son on the stoop of their Brooklyn home. Ann told me that Marvin was killed during the war and she wanted to include a picture of him so that he might be remembered. She didn’t know what had happened to her friend, as Marvin’s mother, also a widow, had become distant from Ann and her family after being notified of her son’s death. Ann had heard that Marvin was buried somewhere in Holland but was unsure about the details. She worried that her single photo of Marvin might be all that was left of him. Ann recounted:
“I remember when I was about eight years old in camp, Marvin, my brother and I were standing near the lake. Marvin spoke to me with such sweetness and warmth that made him so different than most of the people I knew.”
While researching Marvin’s service, I was able to locate his grave at the American Cemetery at Margraten in the Netherlands. Marvin enlisted in New York on September 23rd 1943 and served with the 311th Infantry Regiment, 78th Division. He was killed in action on January 31st of 1945 during the final battle of Kesternich, Germany, 20 miles from Aachen. Marvin was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. I passed this information on to Ann and hoped it might offer her some closure and solace. I contacted the cemetery and discovered that Marvin’s grave had been adopted and maintained since 1946. Marvin had definitely not been forgotten.
After emails on Ann’s behalf with the grave adoption agency in Holland, I put Ann in touch with the family maintaining her friend’s grave. She wrote to them:
“I would like to thank you for looking after a most wonderful boy’s grave. My oldest brother Alfred Lehman was a friend of Marvin’s, we all went to the same summer camp. Marvin was Ruth Harman’s only child and she had lost her husband.
In January 1945 I was almost nine years old. I can tell you this about Marvin, whoever knew Marvin loved him, including me. Over the years I have met people that knew him and they expressed the same feelings. He was a very special person and [his death was] a great loss to all that knew him. Nineteen years old was too young to die. May god bless you for what you are doing.”
Ruth Harman with her son Private Marvin Harman in Brooklyn, New York in Summer 1944. Gift in Memory of Marvin Harman, 2013.342.
Ann received the following response from the family looking after Marvin’s grave:
“I want to thank you for the time you took to search for the grave of Marvin, and me. . . .I can tell you that I adopted Marvin’s grave eight years ago but I was not the first. There was another woman in Maastricht who had adopted it in 1946. The woman in Maastricht who adopted the grave had lost her husband in a camp in Germany. Did Marvin’s mother ever have a chance to visit the grave of her son?I bring flowers to Marvin’s grave 3 or 4 times a year with my husband and our 2 sons. Sometimes there lies a white rose. I suppose that someone from the family in Maastricht still comes and visits him also. Whenever we visit Marvin’s grave at the cemetery we see all of those boys’ names on so many graves, it is difficult for my eyes to stay dry.”
Ann provided the family with the picture of Marvin, who until this time, had only been represented to them by a stone marker in the cemetery:
“I am so moved with this picture of Marvin and his mother. He was exactly as you described him…a beautiful boy! You can see from his face that he was a very kind person. His mother is so young and pretty. It must have been so painful for her to receive the awful news about her son. She seems so happy in this picture.”
Last year Ann paid a visit to her old friend Marvin in Holland and she made a few new acquaintances, Marjo and Winny Habets and their sons, the caretakers of Marvin’s grave. Ann keeps in touch with the Habets on a weekly basis and they have become close friends. Their conversations often, but not always, touch on Marvin. She is contemplating another visit to Margraten in May of this year.
(From left to right), Margraten Cemetery staff member Cecil Buis, Marjo Habets, Winny Habets, and Ann Lehman Brownstein at The Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten in 2014. Photo courtesy of Ann Lehman Brownstein.
Posted by Lowell Bassett, Collections Manager at The National WWII Museum.
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.