Too often small gets lost in the big, yet sometimes it's just the opposite, and Albuquerque’s regionally-based Museum of Military Families can now boast on that score.
The American Association for State and Local History has recently named the museum the winner of the 2018 Albert B. Corey Award, which celebrates “primarily volunteer-operated historical organizations that best display the qualities of vigor, scholarship and imagination in their work.”
The citation results from “the nation’s most prestigious competition, recognizing achievement in state and local history.” In New Mexico, accolades usually lean toward larger events, such as the ever-popular Balloon Fiesta, as well as a number of other historical tourist attractions. So when a local, lesser-known museum wins national recognition, there is more than enough reason to celebrate.
The museum, founded in 2011 as a nonprofit organization by army wife and military mother, Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, has earned national attention as the country’s only display devoted to the military family. While Woessner's son was deployed overseas she sought after any documents related to experiences of military parents, spouses and children. After finding nothing she decided to start a museum dedicated entirely to the military family.
The MAMF is dedicated to collecting and preserving the stories, letters, photos, documents and artifacts of friends and relatives who have supported a member of America’s armed forces. MAMF also manages Operation Food Locker, a mini-mobile exhibit that circulates throughout the United States in hopes to honor military children and their families. It focuses not only on military exploits or armed conflict alone, but on what relatives—all sharing in the sacrifice of national defense demands—contribute to veterans and those currently serving.
Visitors walk into an actual household adorned with items of generations from all branches. Everything from uniforms, insignia, letters and scrapbooks, to helmets, boots and souvenirs. In addition, the museum maintains a comprehensive special collections library and an archive of unique documents and firsthand stories by and about military spouses, service members, relatives and children from military families. They will also enjoy an examination of military humor titled, “GI Jokes,” as well as another exhibit created by members of the LGBT military community called “Inside Out.” MAMF also promotes external events such as documentary film screenings, spoken-word performances, discussion groups and classes relating to the achievements of military family members. In 2017, it published three anthologies and a cookbook compiled from the writings of military family members and veterans detailing the personal effects of war, work, service and mobility on family life.
I feel I have a stake in that award, not just as the Museum’s Writer in Residence, but as a Korean War era veteran with a service-connected disability. While eligible for health care at the Albuquerque VA hospital, and in joining a distinguished group of fellow veterans, I see firsthand the part family plays in military service. Whether on foot, with walkers, in wheelchairs or by motorized vehicles, many of those vets come accompanied by either a friend or relative.
Originally, as more dove than hawk, I never considered myself belonging to a military family. But the moment I entered the museum for the first time and saw how it was arranged as a military home, I realized otherwise.
The first exhibit I gazed at was an ironing board set up alongside a modest kitchen table. Draped across it, next to an upturned iron, lay an army jacket waiting to be pressed. I was reminded of my first furlough home back in 1953, immediately after basic training. Proud of my uniform, but aware of how wrinkled it had become after a long train ride, I asked my mother to iron it. I now pictured how she stood ironing it as proudly as I wore that uniform. That alone made her a military family member, and me one too.
I was born in 1932, and in 1941—three days before my 9th birthday—America entered World War II. Two of my uncles served in that war, and a silver star for each of them hung in our front window. Then five years after Japan surrendered war broke in Korea and my brother had enlisted and was deployed. Six months following his return, with a disability of his own, I was drafted. Now it was my turn to keep ours a military family.
For better or worse, we are a nation perpetually at war, clear across the 20th century into this one. World War II was only a short generation from the first World War, Korea and Vietnam conflicts were shadowed by an ongoing Cold War, along with two Gulf Wars and, of course, Afghanistan.
Directly or vicariously, we are all connected. In that spirit, I invite anyone to visit the museum. See for yourself how the front line and the homefront converge in a single modest kitchen. Every New Mexican is invited to sit at its small table, which in effect can feed us all as members of one big military family.