To Preserve and Protect Cantigny Curator Collects Artifacts to Tell Proud History of the 1st Division

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Dibble

By Susan Dibble

Terri Navratil didnAEt know about boats.

But when the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Wheaton purchased a World War II landing craft known as a "Higgins boat," Navratil, the museumAEs curator of collections, oversaw the restoration efforts.

A year and a half of research and close coordination with the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, N.C., which did the actual restoration work, has returned the 1943 craft to what it looked like when such vessels were used to deliver soldiers to the beaches of Normandy during the Allied invasion of Europe. Fewer than a dozen of the landing craft are known to exist today.

"Terri was in charge of that effort and did a terrific job," said Paul Herbert, executive director of the Cantigny First Division Foundation.

The Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) u as the vessel was formally called u will be dedicated June 6 during a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of D-Day. World War II and D-Day veterans will be honored, the American Legion Band will perform, and World II re-enactors will give a glimpse of living history.

A bit to her chagrin, Navratil will not be there. Her daughter is getting married that day.

"IAEm kind of upset because we have so many things going on here," she said. "The landing craft is going to be here. ItAEs my pride and joy. IAEm going to miss all the people being so excited to see the landing craft."

The restoration of the Higgins boat is one of the biggest projects the Naperville resident has headed in her nearly nine years as curator. But Navratil has plenty to keep her busy at the museum dedicated to the famed 1st Infantry

Division of the U.S. Army, popularly known as the Big Red One for the red numeral worn on a soldierAEs shoulder patch.

Col. Robert McCormick, the late publisher of the Chicago Tribune and a veteran of the First Division, named his Wheaton estate Cantigny after the village in France where Americans won their first victory in World War I.

The Fighting First has seen plenty of action since then. The ArmyAEs first permanent and continuously serving division, it has seen action in all American conflicts since 1917 except the Korean War. As curator, itAEs NavratilAEs job to collect and preserve the artifacts that tell that story.

"IAEm responsible for all the three-dimensional objects," Navratil said. "We have about 12,000."

As is typical of other museums, the First Division facility exhibits only about 5 percent of its artifacts at a time, Navratil said. The rest must be carefully documented and stored.

She admits it was a daunting task at first.

"I was probably a little overwhelmed with the wide scope of the collection," Navratil said. "The history part of it, IAEm very comfortable with. The military part has been really interesting to learn about because itAEs very specific knowledge."

The collection includes everything from an outdoor park with a dozen tanks (most of them on loan from the Army) to artwork. Navratil has learned about uniforms, insignia and weapons. SheAEs also in charge of the running historic vehicle program that participates in parades.

Right now, First Division volunteers are building a World War I Liberty truck from the parts of several of the vintage vehicles. …