Veterans & the Arts

November 08, 2017 8:37 AM | Marketing (Administrator)

All Wars Museum Open House

Saturday, Nov. 11

Noon to 4 pm

It’s Quincy’s best kept secret.

That’s how All Wars Museum Curator and Marine Corps Veteran, Bob Craig explained it to us as we toured the expansive collection spanning all major conflicts in American history.

“There are so many places that the military and the arts world intersect,” Craig continued as he pointed toward a display of Revolutionary War-era heraldry and military insignia. “I think it would surprise people who have never visited our museum to see the great art and music made by or inspired by men and women who have served.”

The All Wars Museum at the Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Home at 12th and Locust is not just a collection of military memorabilia, but is a treasure trove of stories about the men and women from the area who have served. The heart of the collection is made up of art created by local vets.

Dan Waggoner, a Marine Corps Veteran who served during the Vietnam War, was among the artists we met with to learn more about the museum. Waggoner is a quiet and thoughtful man and is clearly passionate about what the museum adds to Quincy.

“I hope that this community understands that this museum isn’t a monument to war, but it’s really about representing people and their stories,” Waggoner explained. “Everything here is a part of the fabric of freedom.”

Waggoner has loved art his entire life, but had no idea that he had a real talent for oil painting until recently. In just over 2 years, he has completed over 60 portraits, including a set of 23 Adams County KIA (Killed in Action) veterans of the Vietnam War which are on display at the museum. He’s also begun painting the 23 KIA area soldiers who served in the Korean War. As Waggoner showed us his paintings, he pointed to each one with warmth and familiarity. Several of these men were his friends and classmates, and it’s clear what a personally meaningful project this has become for him.

“When you get back from war, you wonder what you’re going to do. You bring back baggage. Art gives soldiers healing opportunities. I struggled for years and years to find a positive outlet, but creating this art feels like I’m giving something back,” he explained.

“When I paint, I try to capture a bit of what each man was like in there. I want people to know a little about who they were. There is nothing that makes me feel better than when a family recognizes the personality of the soldier they lost in one of my paintings.”

Joe Laratta, an Army Veteran who also served in Vietnam, has a big personality and equally big grin. He specializes in replicas and dioramas at the museum which he completes to exacting detail.

“I’ll call a paint manufacturer to blend the right colors for a tank or I’ll research the sand color for a model of Normandy Beach,” said Laratta. “If you’re going to do something like this, you have to do it right. It respects the history to be accurate.”

Laratta also cited the healing power of the arts for himself. “There’s nothing normal about war. Nothing normal about carrying around an M16 and looking for bad guys. This is a way to work through this stuff. Vets are basically a society within a society and sometimes we need this connection to feel normal.”

Visitors will be surprised by the detail of even the enemy side of Laratta’s dioramas. For instance in one display, he vividly depicts the city-like life inside of the tunnels of the Vietcong.

“I think students who tour the museum especially benefit from seeing both sides and thinking about what life was like,” Laratta told us. “A soldier is a soldier, and even across enemy lines, there is a certain respect there and things we have in common. That’s why I go to this level of detail on both sides of the conflict.”

Laratta is one of they many volunteers who donate their time to the museum, which has no paid staff except for Craig. Craig wants museum visitors to know that every piece in the museum and every resident at the Veterans’ Home has a story. Those stories are what drive him to create his art projects, which include two seemingly disparate mediums: painting enormous murals and scratch crafting tiny miniature replicas of armament, soldiers and military vehicles.

“I do this because sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance,” said Craig. “Every soldier has paid an awesome price to preserve our way of life, and this is my way of making sure we remember.”

He said that the veteran-created art inspires conversations within the All Wars Museum that are a treasure all their own.

“Veterans seem to relax here and tell their stories. A POW (Prisoner of War) that had been held in the Philippines was in here telling us about his experience,” said Craig. “It was good for him to tell his story and good for us to hear it. We’ve had German and Japanese ex-soldiers tour the museum and have commented on how thorough and fair the collection is. We often have Veteran’s Home residents sharing important historical moments- like [current resident] Bob Erickson who was the man that played Taps on his bugle at the final flag ceremony at the cease fire as the US was leaving Korea. I’m proud to be able to tell these stories.”

Visitors can tour the All Wars Museum Tuesday–Saturday, from 9 am to 4 pm, and Sunday from 1 to 4 pm. The museum will also be holding a special Open House during Veteran’s Day weekend on Saturday, November 12 from noon to 4 pm with assistance from Arts Quincy. To make a donation to support the All Wars Museum’s art programs for veterans, send your check with notation that your donation is for the museum to: Illinois Veteran’s Home, 1702 N. 12th Street, Quincy IL 62305.

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