By Emma Castleberry
Emmett Casciato, founder and curator of The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas, may never have served in the military himself, but he has a deep appreciation for those who have. “Preserving and displaying the service members’ uniforms, artifacts and mementos is my way of honoring those who served,” he says. Casciato’s father served in World War II and his daughter is a West Point graduate who served in Afghanistan. Casciato’s fascination with military history inspired him to found The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas, which grew out of a 2016 showing of his personal collection of military artifacts. “We have 1.2 million living veterans in North and South Carolina,” he says. “These people bravely fought for and preserved our freedom and the way of life we enjoy.” The museum’s mission is to honor veterans, preserve their history and educate the public about their sacrifices.
Living histories are a major part of the museum’s work. Casciato remembers a particularly moving visit from George Sarros, a D-Day veteran, who told his story of landing on the beach at Normandy to a group of visiting campers. “Just think of that,” says Casciato, “living history from 75 years ago about one of the most important successes to preserving Western civilization. Our museum provides a place, events and people to make these memorable conversations happen. We are educating people, young and old. We honor veterans by telling their stories.”
More than 14,000 people have visited the museum since it first opened in 2016. The museum hosts free programs monthly, many commemorating important military events such as D-Day, September 11, Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor Day. During November, the museum will honor women in the military both past and present with special exhibits, such as more than 80 photographs of women who have served, as well as books, artifacts and other live programs. On Thursday, November 7, retired Navy Captain Maureen Copelof will present The History of the Navy. “The contributions of women were often overlooked and minimized, and only recently have we as a nation really embraced and understood the full contribution and sacrifices that women made throughout our military history,” says Copelof. “Highlighting the roles and accomplishments of women is an important acknowledgment to all of us who served. We are extremely fortunate to have the Veterans History Museum located here in Brevard. It not only celebrates and honors those who served but also reminds all of us about freedom, duty and sacrifice.” Copelof contributed several photographs to the museum’s exhibit as well as her Service Dress Blue uniform, which is part of the permanent collection.
On Thursday, November 14, US Navy Medical Recruiter Lieutenant Barbara Sterrenberg will present My Career in the Navy. Sterrenberg offers the unique perspective of a woman who joined the Navy later in life, at 47 years old. “I want people to know that, in certain specialty areas of the military, age is not as important as having qualified, experienced and competent officers taking care of the medical needs of our country’s sailors,” she says. On Thursday, November 21, the museum will host two presentations: Taking Care of our Returning Prisoners of War from the Pacific, by US Army Nurse Dorothy Managan, and Serving in Korea After the War, by US Navy Nurse Michele Bretz. All programs are held from 2–3 p.m. and are free and open to the public.
The museum has also launched a capital campaign to expand its space for displaying more artifacts, hosting larger events and recording veterans’ stories for the Library of Congress permanent archives. “The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas is not just a place containing things,” says Casciato. “It is a place where veterans come and meet each other, tell their stories, receive recognition, educate others and feel appreciated.”