The National Museum of the Army Reserve: Keeping History Alive

By Hale, Timothy L. | Warrior - Citizen, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The National Museum of the Army Reserve: Keeping History Alive


Hale, Timothy L., Warrior - Citizen


FORT McPHERSON, Ga. - Most buildings in the U.S. Army are not thought of as being the keepers of history. But for the Headquarters, United States Army Reserve Command, you cannot walk anywhere inside its walls without seeing the history of America's Citizen-Soldiers.

Thanks in part to the efforts of Chris Kolakowski and Chris Ruff, chief and deputy chief curators, respectively, of the National Museum of the Army Reserve, the headquarters building is indeed a testament to that history. The pair oversees the 45 display cases that can be found from the basement floor to all four main floors, each charting the history of the Reserve fighting force.

"Because of the function the Army Reserve has played since its creation in 1908, it has been an essential part to the Army fighting and winning its wars," Kolakowski said. "That's an important aspect of our national defense that sometimes gets lost and needs to be remembered."

It doesn't take long to see that both men share a passion for all historical periods, as evidenced by the reservoir of knowledge of the people, places, events and dates they can spout off" at any given moment.

Kolakowski believes, as the Greeks and Romans did/somebody's not truly dead until you forget their name or what they did. By using these stories to educate and inspire today's Army Reserve Soldiers and the American people about the great tradition of federal Citizen-Soldiers, it makes preserving Army Reserve history very important."

With approximately 2,900 artifacts dating back to the 1700s, the Army Reserve historical collection runs the gamut - uniforms, weapons, insignia, photographs, documents, military accoutrements, boots, hats and helmets - of not only American troops, but those of nations who have fought against us.

Artifacts in the collection come from a variety of sources. Many come from units that have cased their colors for the last time, veterans who donate their fair share and Family members who also make donations.

One of the more significant items in the collection is the Medal of Honor posthumously presented to 1st Lt. Donald Pucket. A commissioned Reserve officer who joined the Army Air Corps, Pucket piloted a B-24 bomber in the second raid on Ploesti in 1944. "To have one (Medal of Honor) in your collection is pretty significant," Kolakowski said.

The most recent Family donation was the uniform, boots and photographs of StafFSgt. Matt Maupin, captured and killed by insurgents in Iraq. The Maupin Family was invited to the USARC headquarters in 2008 for the emotional unveiling of a display where they were able to see and touch his uniform one last time.

If the NMAR is in need of artifacts for a display, Kolakowski and RufFcan usually cull them from the Army Historical Clearing House at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. "It's like a time capsule from the arsenal of democracy," Ruffsaid.'Tt's like the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark' with the vast warehouse of artifacts... minus the Ark of the Covenant," Kolakowski added with a smile.

Most displays start as an idea or a story that needs to be told. The process, from concept and research, to artifact selection, fabricating mounts and installation, can take up to six weeks.

For Ruff, it's the artifacts and uniforms that drive his passion for museum work.

"I really enjoy working with artifacts. I think it's one of my favorite aspects of this job," RufFsaid."I also enjoy designing exhibits and doing research for them as well. You have to know what's right - if a particular uniform is right for a particular exhibit that you're putting together.

Ruff also has another unusual skill - uniform tailoring. He studied under a tailor at Colonial Williamsburg where he learned the 18th century tailor's trade. His skills help make many of the uniforms in the exhibits look battle-worn instead of new and pristine. …

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