Posted by: Kath Usitalo | August 13, 2010

WW II: A Tribute Exhibit

Areas of the Besser exhibit are dedicated to the different fronts of WW II; an Alpena man was one U.S. soldier who signed the Japanese flag

V-J Day—Victory Over Japan Day—recognizes President Harry S. Truman’s announcement on August 14, 1945, that Japan had unconditionally surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II. Formal surrender took place weeks later on September 2.

V-J Day has not been declared an official holiday in the U.S. Probably not in Japan, either.

But it made me think about  the Jesse Besser Museum in Alpena, “WWII: A Tribute Exhibit.” As the name suggests, the goal of the show is to honor the people of the Northeast Michigan community who served in the military, and to those members of “The Greatest Generation” who did their part on the homefront, according to Randy Shultz, who organized it.

Flag signed, lower right: Edward Segorski, Alpena, Mich

He was impressed with the level of participation and the range of items loaned by residents and their families. “I didn’t know what to expect, how much we’d have to display,” said Randy.

One case contains U.S. rations labeled “Meal, Combat, Individual; Beefsteak and Potatoes” complete with bread in a can and a small box of Winston cigarettes.

U.S. Army-issued personal items saved all of these years include Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate and tins of foot powder and sunburn protection.

Victory and War Bond Posters line one wall, illustrations of dreamy pin-up girls another. Children’s toys, like the Victory Picture Puzzle, reflect the era.

A reminder of the concentration camp at Auschwitz

Two galleries are filled with German medals, belt buckles, armbands, helmets and dress swords. Japanese flags, rifle, bayonet. A “Trench art” ashtray and picture frame made by soldiers from shell casings and other metals. Dioramas.

A piece of the flag that flew over the Marine barracks in Guam as the Japanese landed.

Many items are from the collection of Jon Dove, a local resident who started gathering WW II items as a young teenager to preserve, not deal them. Randy asked him to supplement the  exhibit with items from his collection, and the museum staffer was wowed by the volume and variety of Jon’s inventory.

Randy has been pleased with the steady stream of visitors to the exhibit, part of the reason its run has been extended through October 30, 2010.

The personal connections between the local people and so many of the items was very moving. Mission of the exhibit: Accomplished.

Oh, and one more thing: Thank a vet.

(Note: At the Besser Museum website you can click to see a YouTube video of the WWII exhibit.)

Permanent exhibits at the Besser Museum, named for local concrete pioneer Jesse Besser, include street of shops representing Alpena in the bustling 1890s and a gallery featuring mounted animals and fish of the Great Lakes State, plus a planetarium.

Visitor Info Click: Alpena

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