Is to Honor, Respect, and Remember Michigan citizens' personal contributions to our nation's military and space programs.
Narrated by Frank Beckmann
Without nourishment, memories fade into a vague, uncelebrated, unappreciated thing we call the "The Past."
Selected memories are particularly deserving of continued feeding and appreciation. Foremost are the memories of the men and women whom fate thrust into an armed struggle on our behalf.
The Michigan Heroes Museum (MHM) exists to nurture the memories of people from Michigan farms, offices, and factories who heeded the summons to military service during America's foreign wars, from the Spanish-American War to the War on Terrorism. MHM is unique in the United States because it is the only repository devoted to the wartime experiences of one state's people. In addition, the Museum includes a section dedicated to the Medal of Honor recipients, and this collection contains more Medals of Honor than any other museum in the United States.
However, it is not a museum of war, nor an archive dedicated to the strategies of war nor the machinery of battle. Instead, it is a shrine to ordinary lives, caught up in and sometimes ended by – the extraordinary experience of war. It is also an eloquent statement about the passing of time and the debt that subsequent generations owe to those who preceded them to preserve our Freedoms.
Located in Frankenmuth, Michigan, MHM holds over 900 exhibits, each devoted to a Michigan soldier, marine, sailor, airman, or astronaut. Youthful faces peer at a visitor from photographs on the walls and display cases, some accompanied by pictures of the older men and women that the young warriors became. Other faces – of those who fell – are frozen, exclusively forever, in young adulthood. Our mission is simply to Honor, Respect, and Remember Michigan citizens' personal contributions to our nation's military and space programs.
A powerful sensation of bygone times, distant places, and desperate struggles cling to the fabric of the old uniforms worn by those on display. The garments, the sundry accessories of brass and leather the soldiers used, and the battle souvenirs and citations they received – all leave visitors pondering the men and women more than the war (during which they served). The artifacts communicate a sense of connection to the warrior that our present freedom and well-being are attributable to these men and women.
It is clear that these heroes could do what they did because somewhere in their souls, they understood that they were doing it for future generations.
The displays at the Michigan Heroes Museum reflect American military adventures and tragedies through the personal histories of people who might have otherwise been forgotten in the relentless press of day-to-day life. However, the Michigan Heroes Museum focuses not just on the military's past nor only on combat. MHM also honors the peacetime bravery of Michigan's astronauts and space pioneers, from the beginnings of rocket science to the marvel of modern space flight.
The many artifacts have been diligently researched and carefully preserved by the Museum's staff throughout the years. They are weighty with the emotions of those who lovingly bestowed them to the Museum. Many a widow, saddened to think the remnants of her husband's military service might end up ignored in an attic after her death, have entrusted them to the Museum, confident they would be maintained and honored. As a result, the Michigan Heroes Museum's collection is rooted in the cherished memories of hundreds of Michigan families.
Stanley "Stan" Bozich, the founder of The Michigan Heroes Museum, was born in Detroit, Michigan, on Nov. 14, 1934. As a teenager, Stanley began a lifetime hobby of collecting military memorabilia and artifacts. Joining the US Navy in 1951, Bozich served aboard the USS. Randall and received his honorable discharge in 1955. Returning home to Michigan, Stanley became a firefighter for the City of Royal Oak, a position he held until his retirement in 1987.
In 1974, Stan, his wife Lou, and a few friends traveled to the Soviet Union, where they toured Russian battlefields and returned a Russian Regimental flag captured by the German SS during WWII. In each town and village along the way, the American visitors were treated with great respect and invited to visit the local museums that told the stories of individuals from that town who had fought in the "Great Patriotic War," which we know as WWII. Greatly inspired by this trip, Stan returned to Michigan with a dream to create such a museum to honor our patriots.
Two years later, his dream became a reality when he filed articles of incorporation to form "Michigan's Own, Inc." His fledgling museum received its non-profit designation. Working full-time as a firefighter, Stan "commandeered" an office in Royal Oak Firehouse Number 2 that served as the first home of what would later become the Michigan Heroes Museum. Now with a place to house and display items that he had collected over the previous 30 years, Stan began to earnestly solicit and acquire military memorabilia and artifacts from Michigan veterans and their descendants so that their stories of service and sacrifice could be told to future generations.
Among the veterans he contacted were the surviving WWI "Polar Bears" of the 339th Infantry Regiment, who had fought the Bolshevik Red Army as part of the Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War. While still training at Camp Custer in early 1918, the 339th became known as "Detroit's Own" regiment since it was composed almost entirely of Michigan men, most of whom had come from Detroit and surrounding areas. The 339th, along with other elements of the 85th "Custer" Division, had been sent to North Russia in the closing days of WWI and fought bravely through the long and bitter winter of 1918-1919 until their withdrawal in June 1919.
Stan befriended the elderly veterans, attended their reunions, listened to their unique stories, and assisted in getting them additional honors and recognition. In return, they made him an honorary "Polar Bear." During this period, Stan also researched, wrote, and self-published a book about the Polar Bear campaign in North Russia. The Museum eventually acquired 51 of their "stories" for its collections. One of them is the story of Henry Duff of Troy, Michigan, who, just before his death in 1986, was reminiscing about his experiences in northern Russia as one of the "Polar Bears." Mr. Duff told Stan, "More than the deed, I remember the people."
And that is what Stan sought to do with his collections - remember the people from Michigan's farms, offices, and factories who heeded the summons to military service during America's wars. People with ordinary lives that were caught up in – and sometimes ended by - the extraordinary experience of war.
Stan eventually needed a larger space and a better location to display the growing number of stories, so in 1980 he relocated his Museum into rented quarters on Frankenmuth's Main Street. Following a rocky and very slow start, Museum attendance and the number of collections began to grow.
It became evident that the Museum needed more room for exhibits, programming, and visitors' growing number within five years. So, with help from local community members, the City of Frankenmuth, and a State of Michigan grant, a new building was constructed in 1990 at the current location on Weiss Street. That building has been expanded to enable more of the Museum's collections to be exhibited for the thousands of visitors it welcomes each year.
Today, the Museum houses over 900 individual collections, each containing the stories and personal items belonging to Michigan men and women who answered their country's call to service. Among them are the stories of 30 Medal of Honor recipients exhibited in a dedicated gallery. These unique displays include each recipient's medals and other personal items and form the world's largest, publicly displayed collection of Medals of Honor. In addition, more exhibits pay tribute to five Michigan governors who served our country during wartime.
In 1978, after contacting Jack Lousma and Al Worden, Stan acquired the first of many collectibles showcased in a separate wing that honors Michigan's astronauts' peacetime bravery. The Museum now tells the stories of 21 men and women who have heroically served their country in the exploration of humankind's final frontier.
For more than 30 years, until a stroke incapacitated him in 2012, Stan worked tirelessly building displays, attracting new collections and memorabilia, and hosting visitor tours – all to create and improve a museum that is the only one of its kind in the nation. The Michigan Heroes Museum results from Stan Bozich's lifelong devotion to his fellow veterans - a place to Honor, Respect, and Remember our Michigan Heroes.