They say those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it -- but Suellyn Novak has a way of transforming the present to the past, and she won’t let you leave without an animated history lesson.
Her history lessons are fairly new on the books, however, because the Alaska Veterans Museum opened just last year.
“We got around 78,000 veterans in the state, but we were the last state in the union to have a veteran's museum,” said Novak, the museum’s executive director.
That's why Novak and her board of directors have spent the past 10 years creating a facility to honor Alaska veterans.
The stories documented here begin in 1865 -- before statehood -- and continue into the 21st century.
“A nation that forgets its heroes are soon to be forgotten itself, so this is the way it needs to be to get the stories out,” said Novak.
Those stories include veterans like 83-year-old Fred Ashcraft, who recently walked through the museum for the first time.
Ashcraft lied about his age and joined the Army when he was only 15. After World War II, he called a submarine in the Pacific Ocean his home while serving in the Navy for four more years.
Novak hopes to add Ashcraft’s oral history to the 133 she has recorded.
“Each one of those men or women has had a piece of the puzzle that when you take, and when you put 133 together, it makes this beautiful mosaic of what service to the nation is,” Novak said.
“All my old friends are dead -- I’m about the only one left,” Ashcraft said. “Now it seems like every year, my best friends all died and that was it.”
That’s why Novak, a 30-year Air Force veteran, has been so adamant about documenting veterans’ stories through artifacts and oral stories.
It takes a certain kind of history buff with a driving passion to take on such a monumental task, but Novak says she knew she wanted to join the Air Force since she was in the third grade.
“I got to live a dream: I got to be a full colonel in Alaska,” Novak said. “I don’t know too many people who can say they lived a dream like that so I’m doubly blessed; now I get to do this.”
Now in so-called retirement, Novak says she wants to educate others so they will remember our veterans not just on Independence Day but every day, while honoring those of the past, the present and the future.
The museum is located in downtown Anchorage at the corner of 4th Ave. and D St. Visitors are encouraged to donate $3 at the door.
Email Christine Kim