A passion for history transforms office into mini-heritage museum

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Eydie Sakura
  • 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
He began collecting shell casings, patches and military collar brass at the age of 10, and 35 years later, he's still going strong. 

Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Hanes, 341st Operations Group interim-superintendent, is an avid collector of military memorabilia, and walking past his office in building 500, you'd know it. The moment you stroll through his office door, you're engulfed in a sea of history. 

Patches and uniforms once worn by Soldiers and Airmen reminisce of days gone by, and their legacy of hard-fought freedom American's enjoy today speak to you and linger in your subconscious throughout the day; making you proud to serve your country. 

An elaborately framed photo of World War I Army Corpsman Emo Jackson hangs behind Chief Hanes' desk. He was the chief's relative who died by mustard gas in Europe during the "Great War." 

"I hang him up where ever I go," the history buff said. 

His passion for the past is evident, and he said he has always been interested in history.
"It was one of the few classes I didn't have a hard time passing in school," Chief Hanes said. 

The Ohio native grew up where there were a lot of farmers and people in the area who were in WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars. 

"At gatherings, I always sat and listened to them talk about their days in service," the chief said. "After I enlisted in the Air Force, even some of my trainers and supervisors were in WWII, one was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, while others were in Korea and Vietnam, and I enjoyed listening to them all." 

The 23-year Air Force veteran began his military career in 1985 as a heating system apprentice. Now a chief master sergeant, the top one percent of the enlisted career field, he collects everything from pre-Civil War to present day military insignia, uniforms, paperwork, photographs, medals and much more. 

"I collect whatever interests me for the most part, but I will get on a kick to collect a certain era for a while then move on to another," he said. "I get most of my collectables from flea markets, rummage sales, antique stores and the Internet." 

At the moment, he's focusing his attention on collecting items from the Civil War and Spanish-American War and recently acquired an 1851 Dragoon first sergeant chevron and a Spanish-American War uniform. A Dragoon is a traditional name for a solider trained to fight on foot but who transports himself on horseback. Members of the Army Cavalry would be a good example of this type of soldier. 

"He knows everything about what's in his collection," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Neutzling, 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron first sergeant. "He doesn't just go out and buy things; he does the research that goes along with it. He'll happily buy you a cup of coffee and tell you the story behind the man in the picture, the medal in the case or the stripes on the wall." 

Chief Hanes said he specifically enjoys collecting enlisted chevrons, uniforms and first sergeant items. But he does have a few officer items for when he sets up displays. 

His military memorabilia is showcased around Malmstrom Air Force Base at the First-Term Airmen Center, Airman Leadership School and the 341st Security Forces Group headquarters. He also sets up special, short-term displays for the Air Force Ball, Enlisted Dining Out and retiree weekend. 

"I thought [Chief's] display for the Air Force Ball was outstanding," Sergeant Neutzling said. "The history and heritage that he brought to everyone's attention was fantastic. Since he always drafts me to help him set it up, I can tell you it takes more than a couple of hours. He does a great job of having everything front-end loaded to make it easy, but there's a lot of stuff, and each uniform display has to be perfect before he'll walk away." 

Chief Hanes said he thinks Airmen and their families are lucky to have a museum right here on Malmstrom because many bases don't have that luxury, and people should take advantage of the museum and learn about the history of what Malmstrom was and where the base is going. 

"We fail to go forward if we don't know where we come from," he said. "Our history is heritage, and that is the force that moves the train. Our professional development guide has a chapter devoted to it. To be the example troop we would like in the Air Force, that Airman should have a good understanding of our history, our heritage." 

Sergeant Neutzling agrees and said he has learned many new things, ironically from old things, and Chief Hanes is a great resource on base for people to learn about the inception of the Air Force. 

"I've learned a lot just from browsing through his stuff," Sergeant Neutzling said. "For instance, his stripe collection has a bunch of different devices inset into the stripe; kind of like a diamond on the first sergeant chevron. I can now pick out an Army Medical Corps NCO from WWII." 

His passion to showcase history through conversation and mentoring is evident to anyone who meets Chief Hanes, and he said people should feel free to stop in if they want to see his collection. 

"I love to share my collection and answer questions," he said. "You hear people say every-so-often that we are losing our heritage. Why? People don't lose their heritage, they let go of it. So just don't let go!"