The Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) held its annual community event for National Airborne Day Aug. 18. It was an opportunity for service members to celebrate their heritage and for civilians in the community to learn about the Airborne.
A lot of the attendees were previous or current service members or had Family who served.
Don Bertino, 94 years old, served in World War II and Korea. He’s been a volunteer at the ASOM since 2007 and hopes to retire soon. He spends a lot of time talking to people about his experiences, particularly in World War II.
Vincent Sittnick, an original member of the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, approached the new chorus for the first time.
“They are so professional now; it’s just astounding,” he said. “It’s been a real pleasure for me to come back here.”
Dane Coffman stood dressed in a World War I uniform by the first table display in the museum’s new 100 years exhibit. It was a tribute to his grandfather, Ralph Coffman, who served in World War I. He called his exhibit “A Ring, a Razor, and a Pipe,” after some of his grandfather’s items that were passed on.
On the pipe, his grandfather had carved names of European towns he had been to, still perfectly legible. Coffman had a book of postcards his grandfather had sent home. One hundred years later, Coffman traveled to those places and took his own pictures. Now, they lay side-by-side on the table.
His grandfather was in the same unit as Alvin York, one of the most decorated Army Soldiers of World War I. One of the only stories his grandfather, an Army barber, told him was of cutting York’s hair.
Deanna Thomas and her son Michael Brown stood near a World War II display in the museum. It was her first time there, but not her son’s. He pointed to the display and mentioned his great-grandfather.
Thomas’ grandfather was a Soldier in World War II, was captured and spent a year as a prisoner of war (POW).
The exhibit stirred her emotions. “I don’t know what my grandpa went through,” she said.
It wasn’t until the last year of his life that he mentioned his time as a POW. He didn’t often talk about the war. The few details he told her included that he was given crackers and cigarettes as a prisoner, that he was released “out of nowhere.” Still, those few details helped her understand the person he’d become.
“He was a very stoic person,” she said. “I never understood why he was the way he was until then.”
For those unfamiliar with the Army, Soldiers demonstrated jumpmaster commands, showed kids how to fire a MK 19 40mm Machine Gun on a High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), and showcased the weapons the Army uses, from heavy, anti-armor weapons to everyday rifles.