Tonight I was at a black tie dinner. It was to celebrate the grand opening of the National World War Two Museum’s new pavilion. A lot of emotion behind tonight. Not only for the employees of the museum, the board of trustees, the contractors that built it, but also for the people that were there who had a hand in the history behind it. Many times tonight, people were overcome with emotion. Tom Brokaw was the emcee, but even he was overcome at times.
There were plenty of distinguished guests. Medal of Honor recipients. Authors. Famous titans of business. There were politicians, both local and national. Media. Musicians. Pillars of the community. This was as big as it gets.
I had seen the pavilion in rough form in early December. Tonight, I walked in, took a photo on Instagram and captioned it “WOW“. It is. Just WOW. There is no other word to describe the overwhelming feeling one gets when they walk into a massive arena and see what I saw. Breathtaking in size and scope. Don’t miss it.
On the way out of the event, I walked with an elder gentleman named Irwin Strovroff. He had a beautiful service dog with him. I chatted with him and he said it was his first visit to the museum. He had been a B24 pilot in the war. Then we stopped and chatted a bit more intensely. I asked him where he was from. He told me he went to college and graduated from the University of Illinois. He was a Phi Ep. Lived on Third Street. Ironically, I lived on Fourth, one block over. Obviously, I graduated a few years after him. We laughed.
Then he told me he was shot down over Germany. Irwin is Jewish. I asked him, “Did you throw away your dog tags?”. He said, “First thing I did.”. Still, when he went to the POW camp, they segregated him from the other prisoners because he was Jewish.
Right now at the museum, we have an exhibit on German POW camps. Irwin and I are going to walk through it together tomorrow. He told me he would probably cry when he went through. I told him I would cry with him. WOW.
This is exactly why this museum is being built. Brick by brick. Exhibit by exhibit. It catalogs human history. Wars are these huge macro things. Lines on a battle map. Arrows here, and strategy about which army to move where, and which carrier to deploy here. Tomorrow, Irwin and I are going to walk through one small temporary exhibit in the museum and he is going to tell me his story. Because that is really what a war is all about. Once the geopolitical conflict is sorted out, it’s about the very real individual stories like Mr. Stronoff’s.
His story is going to be more powerful than any line on any map. I hope I am emotionally prepared to hear it. Because I have a feeling that it will be pretty powerful. WOW.