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Heritage Park: Lesson in Military History

November 08, 1986|WILLIAM S. MURPHY

The 7 1/2-acre site that is the American Heritage Park Military Museum resembles a staging area for an invasion. Row on row of tanks, jeeps, trucks, ambulances and other hardware from past wars await the order to move out as they once did on many a former beachhead.

The field is silent. Missing is the noise of muted voices, the rattle of soldiers' accouterments, shouted commands and the sound of the guns as thousands of men press forward into battle.

Many veterans bring their children and grandchildren here. A visit to the museum, they say, has implications beyond merely pointing to a tank and telling a youngster that grandfather drove one just like it across France with Patton's 4th Armored Division. It's a lesson in history, and World War II and even Korea are eras that interest many young people today.

Usually open only on weekends from noon to 4:30, the museum this week will also be open Tuesday from noon to 4:30 in special observance of Veterans Day.

Patriotism Popular Again

As one recent visitor remarked: "Patriotism is popular again. So is honoring those who didn't come home from all the wars."

Don Michelson, 69, an officer in the Quartermaster Corps during World War II, began collecting military material in the 1950s, and established his military museum in El Monte four years ago. Most of the vehicles and weapons are from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The major items are on loan from the Department of Defense, and the balance is owned by the American Society of Military History, a non-profit educational organization that has taken on the museum as a special project.

Michelson's son Craig, 27, serves as vehicle-display coordinator. "One of my jobs is to see that they run," he explained. "These are the tanks, jeeps and trucks. We can't take them out for parades because of insurance, but we do maintain them to prevent deterioration. Volunteers, mostly former servicemen, come out to help me, but we're always looking for more."

Bill Swan, a former Marine who lives in Covina, is one. He recognized a landing craft during a recent visit as similar to one he was in during the landing on Bougainville in 1943 after an intense bombardment of Japanese positions. Now he volunteers one day each week restoring the boat. "I want to see it preserved for future generations," he said.

Former Tank Crewman

The senior Michelson described another former Marine, now a telephone lineman, who was working atop a nearby pole recently. Looking down, he spotted a familiar-looking tank.

"He'd been a crewman in one just like it in Vietnam," Michelson related. "His buddies from his old outfit get together regularly. He's bringing them here for their next meeting."

Veterans of the First World War also come to the museum, aging now, their ranks thinning; these are the former soldiers and Marines who went to France in 1917 to fight the Germans in the war to end all wars.

Armed with memories of the Argonne Forest, Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, they gaze quietly at the weaponry, most of it more modern looking than the tanks and guns of their era. For them, Nov. 11, 1918, will always be Armistice Day, pinpointed in history by Marshal Foch's Order of the Day to all Allied troops: "Hostilities will cease on the entire front on 11 November at 11 a.m. French time."

Admission to the American Heritage Park Military Museum is $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. To reach the museum, take California 60 to the Rosemead Boulevard off-ramp, then north 3/4 of a mile to 1918 Rosemead Blvd., El Monte. Phone (818) 442-1776.

Other Veterans Day observances will be held Tuesday in the Los Angeles area. At the Veterans Administration Medical Center in West Los Angeles ceremonies will begin at 10:45 a.m. at the flagpole of the Wadsworth Division. From Wilshire Boulevard one block west of Interstate 405 turn left on Sawtelle Boulevard to the Center. The program includes a flyby by the Condor Squadron of World War II aircraft that is based in Van Nuys. There will be a band concert by the Los Angeles Elks "99" band. Jack Kupersmith, 95, a veteran of World War I, will raise the flag as the highlight of the ceremony.

The 27th annual West Coast Sacred Torch Ceremony will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the Court of Liberty, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.

The ceremony, largest in the western region of the United States, will also feature as participants Los Angeles consuls general of Great Britain, France, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Belgium and the Philippines, Medal of Honor holders and representatives of 15 separate veterans organizations, including veterans of World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Los Angeles City Council President Pat Russell will be the chief speaker.

Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills is located at 6300 Forest Lawn Drive near the city of Burbank.

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