Hoping to fill holes in National WW2 Museum collections
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Even with enough artifacts to fill a growing number of buildings, the National World War II Museum’s collections have some gaping holes. Those include items from the Holocaust, the first U.S. engagement with German troops, and the women who flew military airplanes to the front, freeing male pilots to fight.
Although the museum’s 100,000-plus artifacts include belongings from about 900 women in other services and the home front, its only illustration of the Women Airforce Service Pilots is a single shoulder patch embroidered with a winged Disney character. It came from a patch collector, without information about the pilot who wore it, said Toni M. Kiser, assistant director of collections and exhibits.
What she’d like is a uniform, a log book, a flight jacket or other artifact with information about its owner. “We like to collect the personal story that goes along with any gear, any uniform, any helmet,” she said.
The WASP trained more than 1,000 pilots starting in November 1942; the last graduation was in December 1944.
“There just weren’t nearly as many WASP as there were women in other service branches. They also weren’t recognized as a service branch for a long time. They had to really fight to be recognized for their work,” Kizer said.
Furthermore, each woman had to buy her own gear. “There was no standard issue gear, so there was no surplus,” Kizer said.
The Holocaust is another “particularly spare” area for the museum, said curator Kimberly Guise.
“We would be overjoyed to get any material connected to the camps,” she said.
Guise said the museum’s few concentration camp artifacts include a jacket without information about its wearer.
The permanent home for Holocaust artifacts would be the museum’s sixth and final building, to be called the Liberation Pavilion. It hasn’t been started. The fifth building, showcasing the European and Pacific theaters, is scheduled to open in November 2014 with The Road to Berlin, and its second floor — The Road to Tokyo — opening in summer 2015.
Guise would also like more items from Japanese troops, Japanese-American troops, and the 100,000-plus Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps, such as clothing or anything else made in the internment camps and a senninbari or “thousand-stitch belt” — a good-luck talisman given to one of the 33,000 Japanese-American soldiers who went to war.
Senninbari are “handmade Shinto religious items — something that’s particularly evocative,” Guise said.
The thousand or more knotted stitches, often red, were set in rows, drawings or other patterns. Each was sewn by a different woman — Japanese wartime postcards show women gathering stitches at a train station, a high-traffic location. Many were stamped with patterns, like embroidery kits.
“We have a couple collections of dictionaries used by Japanese-American translators and we have a couple uniforms but would certainly like to increase our collections in this area,” Guise said. The uniforms include one worn by a member of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese-American regiment in which the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye served.
The museum’s online list of what it wants includes “military and non-military items made in Japan during the war and occupation,” but asks for a photo before any decision is made. “We are no longer accepting katanas or samurai swords,” it states.
As the museum has filled up its existing buildings and reduced its acquisitions budget, it’s shifted from actively hunting for artifacts, said Tom Czekanski, director of collections and exhibits.
“For example, we wanted a light tank. ... We would continually check through assorted websites and e-Bay and chat boards and things where people would offer stuff like that for sale,” he said. After nine years, it got an M3A1 Stuart which is currently in the shop to fix oil leaks.
As for money, he said, “Right now we don’t have a budget for acquisitions. So our principal means of working on acquiring those items are more passive. We have a list on our website ...”
That online list is general, except for specific Axis pistols and rifles. It doesn’t include, say, curator Eric Rivet’s dream item: a winter coat worn by an African-American while building the ALCAN Highway in Alaska.
“Early in the war, a lot of African Americans joined up thinking service in the military in World War II would be a big step up for them. The truth was that most went from menial jobs in society to menial jobs in the military. A lot was grunt-work such as building the road in Alaska,” Rivet said.
He estimated that the museum has more than 100 artifacts, mostly photographs, papers and oral histories, to illuminate the story of African-American war service. “In terms of actual three-dimensional objects — uniforms, that kind of thing — it’s very small,” he said.
Gear used by a member of the Tuskegee Airmen or the USS Mason — the first U.S. Navy ship with an African-American crew — also would be appreciated.
A canteen from the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in North Africa and a worker’s badge from the Manhattan Project would gratify curator Larry Decuers.
The Battle of the Kasserine Pass was the first time U.S. forces faced German troops. “We had more troops involved in the battle than the Germans did. But the Germans were battle-hardened at that point and we weren’t,” said Decuers (duh-CYOORZ).
The 30,000 U.S. troops retreated 50 miles in days, taking heavy losses.
A canteen would illustrate the desert environment, “But again, I think if we had anything from that specific battle it would be a big score for us.”
Czekanski’s wish list includes correspondent Ernie Pyle’s typewriter and a rivet gun used during the war at The Boeing Company’s Seattle plant.
If he had to choose, he’d go for the rivet gun. “This museum has always been about the common man. And while Ernie Pyle certainly reflects the view of the common man, (the gun) would be an even more common piece.”
The armed forces’ 16 million men and women made a great sacrifice, but “none would have been done without the arsenal of democracy — products made in the United States and shipped to our services and allies all over the world,” Czekanski said.