The Museum’s collection contains many letters in which soldiers write home to loved ones describing the purpose of their service—fighting a war so that their children could live in peace. Sadly, this dream of peace for the next generation did not occur in many cases. The volunteer corps of The National WWII Museum, an integral part of everyday Museum operations, consists of many of this next generation, the children of the “Greatest Generation.” Included among them are over 35 veterans of the Vietnam War-era, the lengthy period from 1961-1975.
Some veterans of this era, themselves children of those who served in World War II, were inspired by their fathers’ service. However, in many instances WWII veteran fathers spoke little about their experiences, and if so, often this information and a connection through service came only after the sons and daughters had also seen war. The service of the Museum’s Vietnam veterans volunteers varied widely. Several served in-country and others in far-reaching regions of the world in Germany, Puerto Rico, and Iran. They served in the infantry, intelligence, logistics, field artillery, social work, and as aircraft mechanics. They include members of every service branch. Together they bring a broad spectrum of experiences, skills, and dedication to our institution and contribute to its success, just as they did with their individual units during their military service. They form a discrete group among our other volunteers, who all act on the shared goals of providing the best visitor experience possible and sharing the story of the American experience in World War II.
“…there are scores of folks behind every combatant supporting their efforts. Service is the ultimate team effort and without the best effort of the entire team, we could not sustain it at the level needed for overall success..For the most part, each interaction with a veteran or visitor where I can be helpful because of my service experience is, in some way, a connection.”
Our Vietnam veteran volunteers include a three-war veteran, Major Ross Gamble, who entered service in 1946 and described his service in World War II as “all of the goodies and none of the grief.” Gamble fought in the Korean War with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines from 1952-1953. He served with the same outfit a decade later in Vietnam, first in 1963 and then later in 1969 in Da Nang, where he was logistics and procurement officer at the USMC Service Command. Gamble, a native Minnesotan accustomed to cold weather, much preferred Korea to the hot, dark, dank Vietnam.
Our volunteers in general are oriented to service. Their openness, friendliness, and willingness to help is often commented on by our guests. Our veteran volunteers are doubly positioned toward service.
“As a Social Work Officer, I always did my best to focus on the needs of others…Yes, there is a definite connection between my Military Service and my service as a volunteer…I do my best to serve our guests with dignity and care and ALWAYS put their needs and questions first. I serve at their pleasure.”
“There’s no doubt that my having served my country in time of peril has made me a more effective volunteer here at the National World War II Museum.”
Our Director of Volunteer Services, Katherine Alpert has deep personal ties to the Vietnam War, as both of her parents served in the combat theater. Alpert summarized her connection to her parents’ service and her work at the Museum:
The importance of being in service to others was always present in my family. My parents went to Vietnam out of a true desire to serve, and I think in that way my parents’ service influences my work. They both volunteered to go early in the war (Dad was Dec. ’66 – Jan ’67 and Mom was June ’66 – June ’67), and they went because they sincerely wanted to help people in Vietnam. Although I did not choose to serve in the military, I did a year of service in AmeriCorps and I always knew I wanted a career in the non-profit sector. Their service also helps me connect to the Museum’s volunteers. Many of the volunteers are former military, and many served in various wars and conflicts. Or they have close family members that served. Those are things I have in common with almost every volunteer.
It is no accident that we count such a large percentage of Vietnam veterans among our volunteers. Veteran volunteers of all eras, not just WWII veterans, make the Museum what it is and embody the service and sacrifice at the heart of the Museum’s mission. There is a continuity and connectivity of service present even when not consciously recognized. That connection may exist between the veteran volunteers themselves, between the volunteers and our many veteran guests, and even extends into our online audience, many of whom are also veterans.
“Volunteering here at the Museum allows me to stay connected with veterans of all branches, regardless of when, where, or how long they served.”
- Rick Douglas
“…there is a huge connection when speaking to any Veteran at the museum. I enjoy stopping the Veteran and asking them questions about their service and hearing their stories. Even though they might not be a Vietnam Veteran, our stories are very much relatable and meaningful to them and me.”
Volunteering at the Museum provides a connection for me as a veteran in that I can express myself to all our visiting veterans. For the Vietnam vets that visit the Museum, I immediately greet them with a hearty “Welcome Home Brother…”
- Lew Shuman
I loved my military career and still miss it some 30 plus years later.
- Robert Stryjewski
Vietnam was a contested war that lacked the (mostly) unified atmosphere of World War II. Museum volunteer Lance Query who served 771st Military Intelligence Detachment (Counterintelligence) wrote that “Soldiers seldom choose their wars. Wars choose us…Vietnam vets engage in heated debate about the war, but one thing we know for sure is that ‘our war’ lacked the clarity of shared purpose of our fathers’ ‘good war,’ both on the battlefield and on the home front…At the Museum, along with fellow volunteers and staff, we have forged that elusive clarity of shared purpose: telling the story and enhancing an understanding of the Second World War. In doing so, we honor not only World War II veterans, but also the other men and women who have served in our military. Feels pretty good.”
We are grateful to include such a distinguished, caring group among our volunteers and recognize these individuals, our Vietnam War-era veterans, for their service to our country and to our institution.
Vietnam Veteran Volunteers
Mike Alexander, John Allan, Gaston Andre, Bob Campo, Roger Cornwell, Rick Douglas, Frank Drongowski, Duke Eversmeyer, Wayne Forest, Ross Gamble, Mel Gold, Patricia Holden, John Howell, LaMarr Ingram, Ellis Johnson, Bob Johnston, John Kattengell, Ron Ludwig, Anthony Lupo, Sammy Manzella, Jorge Maspons, Bob McKey, Ken Merrick, Don Nolan, Tony Obst, Fred Ours, Don Philastre, Lance Query, John Rice, Allan Rosenberg, Bob Scott, Glen Seale, John Shalett, Lew Shuman, Bob Stryjewski, Tony Wickramasekera
Kimberly Guise holds a BA in German and Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also studied at the Universität Freiburg in Germany and holds a masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University. Kim is fluent in German, reads Yiddish, and specializes in the American prisoner-of-war experience in World War II.