Posted by: Kath Usitalo | November 11, 2009

Museum Salutes Michigan Military

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Tanks for your service, Michigan men and women

Every day is Veteran’s Day at Michigan’s Own Military and Space Museum in Frankenmuth. This tribute to the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces and space program is the vision and almost single-handed effort of Stanley Bozich, a retired Royal Oak firefighter and founder of the offbeat attraction located off the beaten “Little Bavaria” path.

Stan Bozich, left, conducts tours of the Michigan's Own museum

“I’m the executive director, curator and janitor,” says the mustachioed Stan during a break in greeting the steady stream of museum visitors. He meets every guest at the door, collects the admission fee, and launches into an orientation before setting them on a self-guided course through the exhibits. Then he makes himself available for questions about the only museum in the U.S. that is devoted to the military men and women of a single state.

To be honest, this museum was never at the top of my To See list. I didn’t understand the assemblage of stuff: an army tank, a plane, a giant stuffed Polar Bear, and something to do with NASA? Finally, curiosity won out and on my summertime trip to Frankenmuth I paid a visit.

The first gallery honors the 5 Michigan Governors who served in the military, beginning with Spanish-American War General Fred W. Green. Then I saw the prosthetic legs of Michigan Governor John B. Swainson, who had lost his below the knees in World War II. “He was a good friend,” says Stan. (How good? Well, you don’t trust your prosthetic legs to just any museum collector.)

The other galleries are arranged by conflict—WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and the War on Terrorism—and are lined with glass-fronted showcases neatly filled with  trim uniforms, colorful ribbons and medals, personal effects, and photos of cocky young servicemen and determined women from each branch of the military.

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Stories, photos, medals and other items tell of the accomplishments and sacrifices of the featured servicemen and women

With a precious limit to museum space Stan has to be selective in the items and individuals he accepts into the museum. “I don’t just collect uniforms,” he explains. “It’s got to be someone with a story to tell: the first, the last, or only.” He’s been entrusted with the artifacts of around 600 people, and to showcase everyone he rotates the exhibits quarterly. On my visit they included the stories of:

-Captain C. Robert Arvin, Ypsilanti High School Valedictorian and West Point wrestling captain who was ambushed by the Vietcong; he is buried at West Point, where the gym is named for him.

-Virginia Krum of Southfield, a WWII Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilot assigned to Lubbock, Texas who logged almost 370 flight hours in training, engineering test flying, administrative and utility flying.

-USMC Captain Ernie Braces of Redford,whose confinement in Laos and North Vietnam totaled 7 years, 10 months, and 7 days; his sandals and striped, salmon-colored pajamas from the Hanoi Hilton were displayed.

Stan’s fascination with military items and those who serve predate his 1951 enlistment in the Navy, a day shy of his 17th birthday. “I started in 1945 when I was 12, and have been collecting ever since,” he says. He opened the museum 29 years ago, and has occupied the Frankenmuth site for 19 years. Although he has occasional help from some local veterans and his wife, it’s largely a one-man operation.

The amount of stuff under this roof is mind boggling: more Medals of Honor than anywhere in the U.S. (including the Smithsonian Medal of Honor Museum), several boats by master model ship builder Charles E. Smith, an assortment of quarter scale airplanes, weapons such as a 1918 Maxim German machine gun, and a gallery dedicated to the 13 Michigan astronauts who have served in the U.S. space program.

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Home of the Polar Bears

And that stuffed Polar Bear greeter at the entrance? This museum has the largest number of artifacts from the “Polar Bears” soldiers who fought in Russia through the winter of 1918-19. A majority of those WWI soldiers were from Michigan, and as a young man Stan befriended some of them, who trusted him with the mementoes of their Arctic war experiences. (The story of the Polar Bears is told in the recently produced film, “Voices of a Never Ending Dawn” now being shown on PBS.)

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Chaos reigns in only one showcase

Every exhibit throughout the museum is orderly except one: a tall showcase filled with grisly photos, weapons, flags, and other artifacts from wartime Japan and Nazi Germany. “We intentionally display it like junk,” Stan points to the comparatively chaotic display and heap of items on the floor of the case. “If it’s neat it looks like a tribute. As we get (a donation) we just toss it in there.” He warns parents with kids in tow of the graphic content while adding, “We want young people to understand why we fought these two governments.”

Young or old, the visitors that day were moved and impressed. I can’t recall a museum visit where there was so much interaction between strangers. A woman, her voice catching, felt compelled to read one of the stories aloud to me. A model airplane triggered the memory of a gent who was a lad during WWII, and he shared a funny story related to the actual plane.

A 13-year old boy summed up his impression of the museum: “I thought it was so cool,” he said. Agreed.

NOTE: Michigan’s Own Military and Space Museum is closed in January and February.

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The hand painted leather jacket of USAAF Tech Sgt. Herbert F. Beyerlein of Frankenmuth, next to his portrait

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Responses

  1. I’ve been to Frankenmuth a few times and have passed by the museum, but never stopped. Now you’ve aroused my curiousity and I will! My dad was career Air Force so I’m a ‘military brat’ – next time, I’ll stop!

  2. I think you’ll find it fascinating, especially with your connection to the military. My dad was in the Navy, and nephew is Army. I’m so appreciative of those in the service.

  3. […] Museum Salutes Michigan Military Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  4. Our family hero, and WWII amputee, Joe Giacinto , (deceased 2015) was primarily responsible for the design and construction of Gov. Swainson’s prosthetic legs. Brother in-law Joe was employed in the prosthetic department at U. of M. for many years. The Gov. made many visits to Joe for follow-up adjustments, proper fittings, etc. Stan, please take good care of those “legs”.

    • Thank you for sharing that information. This is a fascinating museum. I am due to revisit it and see what’s new.


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