Museums: Preserving the World’s Military History

When it comes to recognizing and commemorating military history, museums take the forefront of the task. Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a museum as “an institution, building, or room for preserving and exhibiting artistic, historical, or scientific objects.” In many instances, objects pertaining to military history fit all of those categories. For example, the Nazis stole and hoarded thousands of works of art during World War II; additionally, the German war machine devised several scientific breakthroughs that are still in use on today’s battlefields. The Allies not only liberated large numbers of oppressed people during and after the second world war, but they also discovered and freed many of the stolen works of art pillaged by the Nazis. Of course, the most notable event of the last 1,000 years occurred through the application of science to the military: It was the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Dedicated to Preserving History

Many museums have devoted their entire existence to small niches of this vast canvas of history and information; some preserve it with broader brush strokes. In all cases, their dedication to the museum craft keeps alive much that would otherwise be largely unknown or ignored. Take, for example, Boston’s Museum of Bad Art. Much of its collection would be consigned to the trash heap were it not for this bastion of the weird, disproportioned and downright crude. The museum takes great pains to say its collection is serious and “… not just the work of the incompetent.” In its own way, it celebrates art in the same way as Edward D. Wood, Jr., celebrated film: exuberantly and vibrantly. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, anyway, and the museum is a tourist attraction, particularly to travelers from the United Kingdom.

Many museums receive their funding from private donations and charities rather than from the government. Even the largest museums sometimes have to work a shoestring budget during these times of economic turmoil. It is through the total commitment of a museum’s staff that such institutions persevere through the toughest times and avoid complete ruin and the closing of doors.

Case Study: Executive Director of the Polish American Museum

Gerald M. Kochan guides the Polish American Museum in Port Washington, New York, and always aims to fulfill his museum’s potential. Kochan has been tireless in his quest to recognize both the contributions of the Polish American Community and of the influence of Eastern European history upon our own history as Americans. One particular focus was brought about by his own experiences as an Army officer. Working with the Poles, Czechs and later Ukrainians he realized that their military contributions were sadly neglected in the West. So establishing the Center for Military Studies, an adjunct yet vital part of the Museum story, he tells the military story of the Poles and others at the Center’s Museum Annex.

In addition to his work with the museum and its supporting charities, Kochan began to work with other charities on other worthy causes, military or otherwise. For example, he is now integrally involved with the group Disabled American Veterans and Wounded Warrior Project. These organizations strive to “empower veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity” through political action on Capitol Hill, educating veterans on the suite of benefits to which they are entitled, and ensuring everyone knows of the sacrifices these men and women routinely made in the past and continue to make today on behalf of the public in addition to special programs for the families and veterans themselves.

In addition to his work with Disabled American Veterans, Kochan brings food to needy people, helps the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need and supports the Catholic St. Joseph’s Indian School for Lakota children in South Dakota.

Having grown up in Lorain, Ohio, as the son of a mother who was supremely dedicated to education and its associated charities and the son of a Polish World War 2 veteran,whose success in this country demonstrated the value of education and effort, Kochan developed a strong sense of righting wrongs and championing the causes of under-appreciated and/or unknown groups and history. It inspired him to take a commission as an Army officer, a career which amplified his understanding of the needs of the “underdog”. This determination to support the “underdog” was facilitated through his role at the Polish museum and accompanying Center for Military Studies, where he has recognized exiled Polish aviators, Polish paratroopers, and unknown female Polish troops that shared the defense of the homeland equally with their male counterparts. His outreach to area schools, and young people in general, assures that knowledge of this legacy will continue to grow for some time to come.