By Cara Rinkoff, Managing Editor and
Alana Stolnitz, NMAJMH Intern
On May 5, more than 75 people gathered at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History (NMAJMH) to honor those who served in the Vietnam War with a new exhibit, Jewish Americans in Military Service During Vietnam.
After discussions for at least a decade, museum staff and the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. (JWV) Vietnam Veterans Committee started working on the exhibit in the fall of 2020.
“We just talked about it and batted it around, but nothing happened until a few years ago when we finally said it’s the time,” said Bob Jacobs, Chairman of the JWV Vietnam Veterans Committee.
This is the first time the museum has worked directly with a JWV committee on an exhibit.
“We’ve done exhibits where I’ve done them all in house and we’ve done exhibits where we’ve worked with exhibit companies. But this one, the Vietnam Veterans Committee kind of curated it,” said Pam Elbe, NMAJMH Director of Collections, Archives, and Exhibitions. “Just figuring out who does what and gathering all the info and letting them tell their own story but still doing it in a professional way.”
“We were raising money for it but then, and then because of the book… which became a serious part of the exhibit, even before there was an exhibit, we had the book,” said Gerald Alperstein.
Alperstein served as the editor for a book on disc that features stories from JWV members who served in Vietnam. In one area of the museum’s exhibit, you can use computers to read those stories. The disc is also available for purchase from both the museum and Amazon.com. “As we gathered items, and we had to come up with a theme for the exhibit, we had to create what ended up being a 56-page outline of the exhibit,” said Jacobs.
There are several other sections of the new exhibit including items brought back from Vietnam by service members, several uniforms, and numerous medals. The items represent individuals who served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The exhibit highlights more than just those who served in combat in Vietnam, but those who served in supporting roles around the world and back in the U.S.
“The reason I donated is it’s important for people to know, who visited the museum, that Jews served in Vietnam, and by looking at the different items that I have donated, I believe people will be able to say that not only did Jews serve, they served in Vietnam, and they served in combat situations,” said JWV Past National Commander Harvey Weiner.
Some of the items donated by Weiner are related to his work in Operation Phoenix. He served as an intelligence advisor to the Vietnamese.
“The Vietnam vets are getting quite old, so we need to get their stories before they’re gone,” said Elbe. “And we have this museum and we have so much of their stuff and they’re willing to loan us some of their stuff that maybe they don’t want to part with, so it was a great opportunity to do that.”
Jacobs added, “When we’re gone, who’s going to say that Jews served in Vietnam?”
Volume 76. Number 2. 2022