When it comes to the military life, Joe Boslet knows what he’s talking about.
The Vietnam War veteran volunteers as a tour guide at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) in Carlisle, where he shares his knowledge and expertise with visitors.
“Kids are interested in how I lived,” he said.
They ask about what he ate and what his duties were, he said. Adults and teens often want to know more about combat.
“They usually ask if I killed anyone,” Boslet said.
He answers that question as best he can, emphasizing that combat isn’t like what’s depicted in the movies.
Starting indoors, visitors receive a dog tag card for one of six soldiers, such as Master Sgt. Edward G. Abraham, who served in the Korean War. The card provides specifics about the soldier, such as where he saw combat. At the museum’s end, visitors learn how the soldier fared through the war and whether he arrived home safely.
Displays include gear and weapons, including a parachute jump interactive exhibit.
“Who would jump out of a perfectly safe airplane?” Boslet asked, happy to keep his feet firmly on the ground. In the “Where in the Hell is Korea?” display, the center helps citizens understand that conflict better, he said.
The “On Patrol” exhibit gives the feeling of being there. “There” is Iraq, with four soldiers on patrol, ready to enter a room through a heavy metal door. Each time visitors open the door, they’re greeted by a different scenario. In one, a family sits to eat; in another, militants are armed and ready to fire. It creates a tension unfamiliar to most people, but completely familiar to soldiers.
Would-be sharp shooters can practice their aim at the digital shooting range.
“We go to Gettysburg quite a bit, and this is something different,” said Morgan Smink, who recently visited USAHEC with her children. When asked what he liked best, son Sawyer Smink replied, “The big tanks.”
He’s referring to the exhibits on the one-mile Army Heritage Trail. This flat, cindered path gives visitors a close-up glimpse into the lives of soldiers and equipment used in Army operations. Visitors will walk onto a Redoubt Number 10 reconstruction, an earthen bulwark with vertical pointy logs encircling it, from the Battle of Yorktown, see artillery up close, and marvel at the tanks and helicopters.
“The 155-caliber howitzer—I didn’t know they could get that large,” said 17-year-old Jacob Lapinas.
He, along with newfound friend Adam Whary, visited with a student group from Commonwealth Connections Academy.
“This place is fantastic,” Whary said. “Pieces of history that others need to see.”
Gary Emerson, a veteran of 22 years in the Army, visited that day from Ithaca, N.Y.
“I can see the development of my military career,” said Emerson of the facility.
Those who would like to delve deeper into military history can make an appointment at the U.S. Army War College Library located at USAHEC. There, history buffs, authors and academics can find letters, journals, rare books, unit histories and the like.
“We collect items from the public to generals,” said John Kurash, audiovisual curator.
About 10% of the collection has been digitized.
“It allows everyone in the world to view” the artifacts, documents and audio recordings, Kurash said.
People visit the library for a variety of reasons.
“Not only academics or historians but authors and for genealogy,” said archivist Joanne Lamm, who described her job as “making order out of chaos.”
Archived items include papers that, at the time, may have been considered mundane, such as the receipt of the materials for the A-bomb, and more ominous, like the D-Day invasion plan.
Art-lovers can stop into the Omar N. Bradley Memorial Art Gallery. The rotating exhibit now holds “Carved in Stone, Cast in Bronze: Commemorative Sculpture of the Civil War.” The “Standing Lincoln” by Augustin Saint-Gaudens and marble busts of Gen. George McClellan and Gen. U.S. Grant are included in this exhibit.
After a day of wading through history, walking the trail and experiencing a soldier’s life, visitors can grab a drink and something to eat at Scoops Café. MREs aren’t on the menu, but there’s a nice selection of sandwiches, soups and salads.
So, how did Master Sgt. Abraham from the digital dog tag manage after the war? He received the Bronze Star, was discharged in 1953, obtained his pilot’s license, and served in the National Guard and Operation Desert Storm.
Whether you prefer history or art or just like marveling at the big guns, you can find something to enjoy and learn at the USAHEC.
The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center is located at 950 Soldiers Dr., Carlisle. For more information, visit www.ahec.armywarcollege.edu.
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