FRANKENMUTH. Mich. —When war calls, American men and women respond. It's their stories that Stanley Bozich wants you to remember.
"When people say they don't like to visit military museums, I like to tell people that nobody hates war more than the guys who fought it," says Bozich, owner of Michigan's Own Military & Space Museum in Frankenmuth, the private museum he has devoted his life to since 1980. "In this museum, there are almost no weapons. It's personal."
The strength of this small museum is its focus on the human side of military history.
Each display case is devoted to one service member and his or her story. It includes a photograph, immaculate original uniform, biography, ID cards, commendations, medals, dog tags and, sometimes, personal articles like POW bracelets, letters and diaries. He also has displays on 28 Medal of Honor winners from Michigan (including the medals) and Michigan astronauts.
The displays show the ambiguity of conflicts. In 1954, long before the U.S. was supposed to have had any troops in Indochina, Pvt. 1st Class Donald Morgan of Flint was captured and held for three months in a cage as a VietCong POW. His display shows the yellowed and vague Western Union telegram explaining to his parents that their son had been captured — and the joyous later telegram: "DEAR MOM AND DAD HAVE BEEN RELEASED AM FEELING VERY WELL AND AM BEING TREATED VERY GOOD WRITE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE — DON."
Visitors likely will find the War on Terror gallery most poignant. Devoted to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it rotates soldiers' showcases. Here's Army PFC Holly McGeogh of Taylor, killed in Kirkuk at 19. Here's Sgt. Michael Pedersen, 26, killed in a helicopter crash in central Iraq in 2003.
So far 187 men and one woman from Michigan have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bozich says.
Why does he devote so much time to his museum? "Somebody has to do it," he says. "These are the people who have paid the price for our freedom. Of all the veterans, few are professional soldiers. Most just went. They served."
So with Memorial Day on our minds, here are four Michigan museums devoted to military history. Sadly, the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville is not among them yet — but it plans to reopen Oct. 21, six years to the day after it burned down. It also offers B17 bomber rides (www.yankeeairmuseum.org, 734-483-4030).
Michigan's Own Military & Space Museum, Frankenmuth: Low-tech but interesting private museum concentrates on Michigan's service men and women, including their diaries, uniforms, photos and artifacts.
The museum is open March through December, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-p.m. Sun; admission is $5, $2 for ages 6-18; $4 for ages 65 and up (www.michigansmilitarymuseum.com, 989-652-8005 ).
Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum, Muskegon: Home of the 1941 USS Silversides WWII submarine and 1927 U.S. Coast Guard Cutter McLane, this is both a museum and ship tour. The coolest part? Groups can stay overnight on the vessels, sleep in the bunks and eat in the galley.
Although most are scouts or student groups, "We've had everything from Harley Davidson groups to church groups," says Bryan Hughes, its executive director.
A new museum building has artifacts relating to the Silversides' service in the Pacific and exhibits on the contributions sub technology made to civilian life, such as radar and batteries.
The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily year round except June-August, when hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $15, $12.50 for ages 62-plus or 12-18, $10.50 for ages 5-11. Overnight stays for groups are $30 per person on weekends and $26 during the week (www.glnmm.org, 231-755-1230).
Selfridge Military Air Museum, Mt. Clemens: Many people may not know that the base has a museum open to the public. Inside are military aviation artifacts, weapons and memorabilia relating to Selfridge's history and the units that served there. Highlights include two jet fighter cockpits that guests can try (an F-16 Fighting Falcon and an A-7 Corsair II), plus an air traffic control radar exhibit, says executive director Lt. Col. Lou Nigro.
Outside, 30 aircraft are on display, including a Cobra helicopter, C-130 Hercules and P-3 Orion.
The museum is open April through October from noon to 4:30 on weekends and holidays, or by appointment. Admission is $4 for ages 13 and up, $3 for ages 4-12. Because it's on a working base, entering drivers must show proof of registration and insurance plus a driver's license (www.selfridgeairmuseum.org, 586-239-5035).
Air Zoo, Portage: This phenomenal museum just off I-94 has two giant hangar facilities in which amazing military and civilian aircraft are displayed in attractive settings.
Highlights include the F-14 Tomcat ("Top Gun") and the slow-slung, massive SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, but the history of flight is told in an entertaining way, showing how airplane design advances made modern aircraft like the Blackbird possible.
The museum is open year round, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is free. A wristband for aircraft-related indoor rides and simulators is $6.95-$12.95, depending on the height of the guest (www.airzoo.org, 269-382-6555).
NATIONAL MILITARY MUSEUMS
Don't miss these four famous museums that specialize in military history:
West Point Museum, Highland Falls, N.Y.
The U.S. Military Academy's museum contains artifacts like Gen. George Washington's pistols; it has a "history of warfare" gallery, a look at weapons through time and exhibits on West Point grads who went on to military glory. Free, open daily 10:30 a.m.-4:15 p.m.; near the visitor's center outside of the campus proper (www.usma.edu/museum/, 845-938-3590).
Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Norfolk, Va.
Tells story of naval battles from the Revolutionary War to modern day; has artifacts from the Battleship Wisconsin, a museum ship which is docked in Norfolk. Free, open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; noon-5 p.m. Sun. (www.hrnm.navy.mil, 757-322-2987).
National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va.
New displays tell the history of the Marines from inception to now. Among its most popular exhibits is "Making Marines" — giving visitors a taste of what it takes to become one. Free, open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (www.usmcmuseum.org., 877-635-1775).
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
One of the top military museums in the world is near Dayton. Aircraft lovers swoon over its extensive collection, which ranges from old Curtis Jenny WW I trainers to Cold War aircraft and modern military jets. Free, open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/, 937-255-3286).