Museum honors U.P. service members
ESCANABA — The Upper Peninsula Military Museum at the Delta County Commerce Center on the U.P. State Fairgrounds is a museum with a mission.
“The bottom line in this exhibit, it is to honor the men and women that served and sacrificed from the Upper Peninsula, but it also tells what the Upper Peninsula contributed to … the war effort,” said Ann Jousma Miller, who serves as the museums curator.
The museum got its start after the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association — which also runs a museum on the U.P. State Fairgrounds that showcases historical machinery and everyday items from yesteryear — was given a large donation of military items. The association had plans of creating a military museum of its own, but the plans never came to fruition.
“It just could never come together, but when this building was built and the new Marble Exhibit was added, and this space became available, then they began to negotiate,” said Jousma Miller.
The military museum is open during the Chamber of Commerce Center’s regular hours and is located just past the Webster Marble Creating the Outdoors Exhibit, which recognizes the history and impact of Marble Arms on the local community. Past the doorway that separates the two museums is a wide array of items and placards telling the stories of U.P. natives who served — sometimes in very unique ways — from the Civil War though modern times.
Special care is given to recognizing the impact of Native American veterans and women. Native American veterans from the U.P. have a wall in their honor that was researched and designed by volunteer Mary Penet. Women’s roles in war efforts are recognized with exhibits telling the stories of riveters, “Hello Girls” switchboard operators, Women Air Force Service Pilots, and even a group of U.P. nuns who were taken as prisoners of war.
The museum also takes great care to recognize those men and women who didn’t make it home. Traveling through the museum, visitors can learn the names of the 229 U.P. soldiers who died while serving the Union in the Civil War, the 247 who died in World War I, the 11 lost at Pearl Harbor, the 30 captured by the Germans and Japanese during World War II who did not return, the 93 killed in the Korean War, the 115 killed in Vietnam, the one U.P. serviceman killed at the Pentagon on 9/11, and the 11 killed in conflicts since 9/11.
The impact of local businesses on the war effort and how those efforts intersected with military life is also recognized at the museum. For example, one placard tells the story of Waco Gliders, the majority of which were produced in Ford Motor Company’s Iron Mountain Plant during WWII. The first glider pilot to fly into combat was Army PFC John M. Pachmayer, who was from Ironwood. Pachmayer died earlier this year at 100 years old.
“That’s the contributions to war. It’s not just the men and women — look at all the U.P. has given. That’s the part that I wanted the message to be able to say,” said Jousma Miller.
While the museum is open and already telling the story of U.P. veterans, it is still developing. At the very back of the museum, the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight is working to create a special area for veterans that have gone on an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. and their families. The area will include photos of all the flight “Missions,” a mock fuselage with a television that will play videos showing the trips, and a mailbox station where visitors can write messages to be read to veterans during the flights’ “mail calls.”
Jousma Miller noted the museum could not have become what it is and continue to grow without the support of the volunteers, community organizations, and businesses that contributed to the project.
“You never do a project alone. Ever,” she said, motioning to the two signs recognizing the contributions and helpers that brought the museum to fruition.