Michigan museum debuts exhibit showcasing local veterans
By TED YOAKUM | Dowagiac Daily News, Mich. | Published: July 6, 2017
DOWAGIAC, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — A soldier who perished behind enemy lines as part of a relatively unknown operation against the Red Army during the Russian Revolution.
A daring pilot who became one of first African-Americans to serve as an aviator in the armed forces during World War II.
An airman who witnessed the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.
While these may sound like characters from a dramatic wartime movie or TV series, they are but a few of the actual Cass County men and women who bravely served their country in the past century.
From now through the end of the year, people will have a chance to learn more about the local soldiers, marines, sailors, pilots and others who served during wartime at the Dowagiac Area History Museum’s newest exhibit, titled “Battle Tested: Wartime Stories of Cass County.” The temporary exhibit is located on the second floor of the museum, and opened to the public last week.
“We are sharing the stories from people who served in the armed forces, from World War I to the current conflicts in the Middle East,” said museum Director Steve Arseneau.
The exhibit showcases old uniforms, medals, letters and other trinkets from servicemen and women hailing from Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg and other communities throughout the county over the years. Also on display is some old equipment manufactured in the Dowagiac area for the war effort, as well as various wartime posters and other interesting military-related items from the museum’s collection, including a spare tire cover from a Humvee that was used in the War in Iraq.
Arseneau had planned to install a display based on locals who served during war ever since the temporary exhibit space on the second floor opened. Most of the items he has collected have been donated by local families over the years, who shared with Arseneau the stories of their relatives who fought for their country overseas.
The director has spent the last several months compiling these stories for the exhibit to finally share them with the greater public.
“It’s a way of humanizing these conflicts on a local scale,” Arseneau said.
In addition to the some of the more famous area servicemen featured in the exhibit — including test pilot and Korean War ace Captain Iven C. Kincheloe, and World War II Gen. Irving Phillipson — there are many who even longtime Cass County residents may not recognize. The figures include Richard Harrison, a Dowagiac man who flew with the Tuskegee Airmen, the first unit of African-American pilots who served during World War II; Peter and John Lambrecht, a pair of Dowagiac brothers who found success in two separate branches of the military during World War II; and Oswalt Wegner, a Dowagiac man who would have likely perished during the raid on Pearl Harbor had he not been summoned to the main land mere days before the attack.
“Our main focus is on telling these stories,” Arseneau said. “Without them, these artifacts are just things. Sharing the stories of our local servicemen and women is the most important part of the exhibit.”
The exhibit will run through the end of the year. The museum staff will host an open house to showcase the exhibit at 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 26.
The Dowagiac Area History is located at 201 E. Division St., Dowagiac, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. For more information contact the museum at (269) 783-2560 or at dowagiacmuseum.info.