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Royal Oak museum’s exhibit honors local Korea and Vietnam veterans

December 2, 2013

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Royal Oak Historical Museum Curator Muriel Versagi talks with veterans Tim Ignash, left, and Dave Schoenherr Nov. 23 while in front of the Michigan Vietnam Veteran Traveling Memorial. The wall and other displays will be showcased through April at the museum as part of the Salute to Korea and Vietnam Veterans exhibit.

ROYAL OAK — Mike Massucci, Royal Oak High School’s varsity boys basketball coach, has come to know his “Uncle Marty” through the stories his father, aunt and other locals who knew him have told.

Martin Massucci was an F-4 pilot flying missions over Vietnam. Martin has been missing in action since his fighter jet went down after taking enemy fire in 1965.

“Even though I never met him, he’s certainly somebody who has been a role model for me and my brother and sister,” Mike Massucci said.

Mike Massucci said that, through the stories, he’s learned that his uncle was a great brother, son and athlete.

“When we get together as a family, as we often do, there’s an occasional Uncle Marty story, which is really cool to hear,” he said, standing before his uncle’s exhibit inside the Royal Oak Historical Museum, where his spare uniforms and other artifacts will be on display through April as part of the museum’s “A Salute to Korea and Vietnam Veterans.”

Along with his story are several other displays telling the personal tales of local veterans through newspaper articles, personal photographs and letters.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict’s cease-fire in 1953 and the 40th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, which ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Knowing that both of those anniversaries were coming up, Muriel Versagi, the curator, said they put out a request for artifacts last summer for the exhibit, which opened on Veterans Day.

“We knew we were going to do this exhibit,” Versagi said.

But collecting the artifacts from veterans or families of veterans from both wars was difficult, Versagi said.

“Korea was interesting because it wasn’t a very large war, so we didn’t have a lot of Korean veterans,” she said.

For Vietnam, the difficulty in procuring items was difficult for an entirely different reason.

“Many are reluctant still to share their experiences,” Versagi said of the war’s veterans. “They said, ‘I don’t want to relive that.’”

When the museum put out requests for Word War II artifacts a few years ago for an exhibit, however, the response was overwhelming.

She said about 60 families loaned the museum materials, uniforms and artifacts.

“The walls were packed,” Versagi recalled.

For the Korea and Vietnam exhibit, Versagi said 20 veterans and families were willing to loan the museum some of their items.

“I think some of them are very angry at the way they were treated when they returned home,” Versagi said. “That’s the overall impression that I got.”

Still, she wasn’t deterred from having the exhibit open on Veterans Day.

“It’s time,” she said. “They are all in their 60s now. It’s time to recognize them with something.”

Not all Vietnam-era veterans were shy about their service.

Rick Sage, who was drafted at 20 and did a combat tour in Vietnam from 1970-1971, has pictures and his uniform on display.

“It brings back some memories and stuff like that — good, bad and ugly,” Sage said while standing in front his display Nov. 26. “But I’m glad they’re showcasing that era.”

Dennis Andrzejak was a military policeman in Virginia during the Vietnam era from 1966-1968. He enlisted at 19. He has his draft notice and dress uniform on display.

When Andrzejak was drafted, he left from just outside 123 Main St. 

“They loaded us on the bus, went to Fort Wayne, walked around in our underwear all day, got on the train and went on to Fort Knox, and spent the rest of the time in service,” he said.

The Michigan Vietnam Veteran Traveling Memorial is also on display throughout April.

To this day, Mike Massucci still thinks of his uncle.

“When I think of my Uncle Marty, not only do I get inspired, but it’s really hard to have a bad day,” he said. “There, you have a person who was not able to reach all of the dreams that he had. And here we are. We get to because of people like him.”

The museum is located at 1411 W. Webster Road and is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.

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