Retired Army colonel takes reins of Cantigny's First Division Museum

Retired Army colonel takes reins of Cantigny's First Division Museum with bold vision

  • Retired Army Col. Krewasky Salter is the new executive director of the First Division Museum in Wheaton. "The museum is something that was appealing to me because it allowed me to continue to be a historian, to continue to be an educator, and to do it at a place that tells an American story and a military story," he said.

      Retired Army Col. Krewasky Salter is the new executive director of the First Division Museum in Wheaton. "The museum is something that was appealing to me because it allowed me to continue to be a historian, to continue to be an educator, and to do it at a place that tells an American story and a military story," he said. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Krewasky Salter

      Krewasky Salter Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Krewasky Salter, the new executive director of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, greets volunteers Jerry Sheeman, center, and Ed Marsh.

      Krewasky Salter, the new executive director of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, greets volunteers Jerry Sheeman, center, and Ed Marsh. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Krew Salter's vision for the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park? Make it the best military museum in the United States.

    Krew Salter's vision for the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park? Make it the best military museum in the United States. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Posted4/10/2019 12:11 PM

Sitting in his bare office just days into his new job, Krewasky "Krew" Salter makes a bold statement with his vision for the First Division Museum in Wheaton.

Salter wants the Cantigny Park institution to rank "among the best, if not the best," military museums in America.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If that sounds like an ambitious goal, know this about Salter: He is a methodical leader, carefully planning his first steps as the new executive director of the museum dedicated to the storied "Big Red One," the Army's oldest division.

Like his predecessor, Paul Herbert, Salter started a second career as a historian. A retired Army colonel and the son of a Vietnam veteran, Salter has taught military history at West Point and Howard University. He's also the curator of an exhibit opening in December at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Salter recently talked with the Daily Herald as he settles into new role at Cantigny. This is an edited version of that conversation:

Q. What attracted you to the position?

A. I read the job description, and it just seemed like it was written for me, which I know it wasn't because they didn't know me. Some individuals who knew me sent it to me and said, "You might want to consider this." And I looked at the job description, and I kid you not, everything (they) wanted and preferred were right in my alley.

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But the fact it was a museum that told a military story -- I'm a soldier. I spent 25 years in the military. So what better job for a soldier to have than to be able to come to a great institution that tells a military history story. And I say military story because this is the First Division Museum, but make no mistake about it, we tell a military story.

Q. Where did you grow up?

A. My father was in the military, so I am a military dependent. Some people call them military brats. So, as a young child, I had the opportunity to move around quite a bit ... My father was in the military for 34 years. He was in the Army and he and my mother still live in Florida.

I was in the military for 25 years, so we overlapped for 10 years. I like to tell people the first 48 years of my life was in the military ... I didn't leave until I was 48 years old. As a child, my father was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, twice, so I got to live there for a total of five years.

Q. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, you curated the inaugural exhibit, "Double Victory: The African American Military Experience." You're also curating an exhibit, "We Return Fighting: The African American Experience in World War I." Tell us about those.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A. When you're fighting a war, it's not just the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines fighting. There's a social aspect to it. There's a political aspect. There's a cultural aspect and there's an economical aspect.

So one way, in my mind, to teach history to a broader audience and to make it relevant is to not just talk about the campaigns and the battles.

At the military gallery at the Smithsonian's 'Double Victory,' that's all weaved in, and I see some of that weaved in here at Cantigny and the First Division Museum. But, of course, I'm just getting here.

Q. What is your vision for the First Division Museum?

A. Number one is to make this the best military museum in America ... not to be in competition, but you have to have a goal, so the goal is ... to make this among the best, if not the best, military museums in America.

Q. What does that look like?

A. I think that looks like people will know of it more. You go to a conference and there are your colleagues from Army museums, from Smithsonian museums, and they know of Cantigny before they see it on the agenda.

Q. Do you think the First Division Museum incorporates enough stories representing people of color?

A. I think that question is kind of premature to ask me right now. And my mission is not necessarily to come in and make sure that people of color are represented throughout.

I do want to make sure we're telling an inclusive story, and I know for a fact that there are stories that touch on the First Division that can be, in an innovative way, weaved into the story and still make sure we're telling the First Division story.

Q. What are some examples of ways to broaden that story?

A. The "Hello Girls" (telephone switchboard operators in World War I) helped make sure the American expeditionary force was able to communicate, just in a nutshell. We may or not tell a story about the "Hello Girls" in the museum. I don't know yet.

I haven't seen it, but that doesn't mean it's not there ... I'd be willing to bet that during the time the 1st Division was fighting in World War I, there's probably some connection to some battle or some campaign that ties to communications. So that is a story that could be put in because it could speak to young girls and women, and they can say women had a key role.

We could go back to World War II, I'm going to use another example of women, and these happened to be African-American Women: the "Six-Triple Eight" was the poster battalion of African-American women who came to France toward the end of the war.

Mail was backed up because Eisenhower knew that mail creates morale ... and soldiers hadn't received mail in months, and so the Six-Triple Eight reduced mountains and mountains of mail and it got to the soldiers. I'm willing to bet you that they touched First Division letters.

So what I want to do is continue to use the Army stories of the First Division, but there are innovative ways to make this story inclusive.

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