General

Where Veterans Day is every day in Chicago

From the Saturday, Nov. 8, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

PritzkerBy Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

If you want to find world-class art in the city of Chicago, you know you can walk inside the Art Institute and be exposed to a universe of it. If it’s natural history that you’re hungry to explore, well, naturally you’d head to the Field Museum.

If delving into the science of everything is instead your desire, then you’ll deduce that the Museum of Science and Industry would be your logical destination. And if it’s Windy City itself that has you curious, then it only makes sense to blow on through the Chicago History Museum.

But what if you want to find the history of America’s military?

Well, as we approach Veterans Day on Tuesday and honor our those who have served, there is a place in Chicago that’s dedicated every day to veterans both living and passed – and is also something of a hidden gem among the city’s diverse museum community.

Established in 2003 by Col. J.N. Pritzker of Chicago’s billionaire family, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library is located right in the thick of things in Chicago’s Loop across from Millennium Park. But perched above street level on the second and third floors of the historic Monroe Building at 104 S. Michigan Ave., it’s also quite easy to miss.

You shouldn’t, however, if you have an interest in military history or are a veteran yourself. For visitors’ information, visit pritzkermilitary.org.

Dedicated to improving the public’s understanding of America’s military past – as well as its present – the library features a treasure trove of more than 45,000 volumes that cover the full spectrum of military history, fiction and theory through books, periodicals and archival papers.

Meanwhile, the museum portion of the space boasts an impressive array of special collections featuring rare military artifacts such as an American flag from 1898-99 with 45 stars and the message “REMEMBER THE MAINE” stitched in between two of stripes, along with kitschy recruitment posters and World War II comic books, fascinating historical documents, soldier’s uniforms and military equipment.

Currently, the museum’s featured exhibit is “SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice,” boasting a wide array of photographs depicting the special division’s grueling training regimen, artifacts on loan from the Navy SEAL Museum in Florida and a memorial wall dedicated to fallen SEALs.

Throughout the museum, you can admire military gear hailing from American battles throughout history. Along one wall, are knives used by our soldiers and a land vest worn in Afghanistan and Iraq. Inside a display case nearby, is a Viet Cong flag and Ho Chi Minh sandals made from recycled tires and a familiar part of North Vietnamese soldiers’ uniforms.

Swim fins worn by American Underwater Demolition Teams during the Korean War are also on display. Meanwhile from World War II, there’s a compass and life belt used by Americans set alongside a tri-fold wallet retrieved from a Japanese soldier in the Pacific theater of operations and a German belt buckle bearing the message “Gott Mit Uns,” which translates to “God is With Us.”

Particularly fascinating are rusted barbed wire scissors from the Battle of Normandy and actual vials of the Sands of Iwo Jima collected from the seven landing zones of the United States’ plan of attack on Iwo Jima and Mount Suribachi. All of the artifacts are moving, but nothing was more powerful this week than watching a handful of veterans as they pushed walkers and used canes while taking long looks at the displays.

“There’s a painting of the Guadalcanal,” said one vet wearing a ball cap with “The Greatest Generation” stitched above the bill. “I was there.”

And, really, that was all that he needed to say.