Museum Library Tracks Details of Selfridge, Aviation History

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Thousands of pages of local aviation history are being sorted, catalogued and preserved thanks to a long-standing but little-known volunteer effort at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Well known for its collection of some three dozen vintage military aircraft and a few thousand military artifacts at the Selfridge Military and Air Museum, volunteers in a separate arm of the museum have created a library and media collection that captures local military air history in text and images.

"It is an education in itself to work on this project. Every drawer I open, I don't know what I will find next," said Frank Brown, a Navy veteran of World War II who is among the volunteers who work one or two days a week to sort and catalogue the museum's collection.

The collection has grown slowly over the years - donations come from veterans, are saved from the scrap heap or are sometimes turned over by military units - and the job of cataloguing the material never kept up with the addition of materials.

"I'd estimate I have about 4,000 items, just in a couple of the file cabinets I work on," said Jim Koglin, another volunteer. Coglin was a charter member of what was once the 191st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, which lives on today as the 127th Air Refueling Group at Selfridge. Coglin originally began serving with the 191st in 1962 when the group was based at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He retired from the Michigan Air National Guard as the unit was transitioning from flying cargo aircraft to air refueling tankers about five years ago.

"Primarily, I am working on cataloguing old photos and collections of old paperwork and report," he said. "I generally try to work on things from the time period when I was in the unit. I have a lot of old photos that have no names on them and a lot of times I can look at it and remember some of the names of the people in the photo."

As several of the volunteers look through old photos or press clippings, they attach a label to every item and then take notes about the item, say an article about when P-51 Mustangs were assigned to the base back in the late 1940s. Those handwritten notes, and the corresponding label number, are then passed along to another volunteer to be added into a computer database.

"We try to keep our focus on things that pertain directly to the Michigan Air National Guard or to this base," explained Dick Soules, who coordinates the volunteer efforts in the library. "We are not trained historians, but all of our members are motivated by a sense of history and a desire to preserve it."

Plus, said Brown, the camaraderie of working with the other volunteers is its own reward.

On a recent volunteer day at the museum - most volunteers work at the museum one day a week, though quite a few are there more often - Brown was sorting through a series of old posters and squadron group photos, some dating from as far back as World War II.

"They like to razz me in here because I was in the Navy," Brown said. "But its all good natured in here. That's the bottom line of going back any place, isn't it, if people treat you well."

Brown was a crewmember aboard a tug boat that ferried barges of ammunition across the Atlantic Ocean. His tug arrived at Normandy Beach on D+2, the second day after the initial D-Day invasion in 1944.

"It was a hell of thing, I'll tell you that. Bodies floating in the water and the guns and the artillery and we're hauling a couple of barges of ammunition," he said.

Brown spent about a year and a half ferrying supplies back and forth across the English Channel between England and France and then was assigned to duty in the Pacific Ocean. He was to be a crewman to support the planned invasion of Japan. That invasion never happened - Japan surrendered after the use of two atomic bombs.

"And now it is all history. And we are trying to organize it and save it," Brown said.

Soules said the museum is always on the lookout for potential new items, anything that includes stories, facts and figures about air power at Selfridge.

He said the museum is also happy to assist researchers or others who are seeking information or photos about the past.

"We don't get used as much for that as we would like," Soules said. "There are a lot of things on the internet and I think people get satisfied with that, but a lot of our material here only exists in one place and that is right here at the museum."

The Selfridge Military and Air Museum is generally open for tours on Saturdays and Sundays during the warmer weather months and regular tour days continue through the end of October. Groups are welcome any time during the year. Information on the museum and Selfridge aviation history is available by calling (586) 239-5035.