Studying a Vietnam War Veteran at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall


Studying a Vietnam War Veteran at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall

Museums Studies Intern at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum — Fall 2018

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is an institution that commemorates our veterans and fallen heroes that have participated in the many conflicts that the United States has participated in. The staff of the museum is dedicated to the preservation of the personal artifacts of many veterans, and they endeavor to teach children, seniors, and adults alike about the hardships and struggles of our military personnel. The museum itself is a small institution, but they work hard to cover the various wars and conflicts the United States has engaged in from the American Civil War up to the present day.

My main project during my internship was analyzing the photographs and letters sent home by a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, Sgt. John R. Elm. John Elm spent a year in Vietnam, serving his country dutifully. He was born on January 19th, 1948, and died on September 14th, 2003. He lived in Pittsburgh, and frequently sent letters and photographs that he took home to his family. He was sent to Vietnam in June 1968 and went home in July 1969. He would write home in his free time in order to calm his nerves after experiencing stressful combat situations. However, he would leave out gory details when addressing his family at large, preferring to save those details for letters home to his sister, Maxine Elm. Elm bought a camera while in Vietnam, and sent many pictures home with the letters, which allowed me to connect many of the photographs to what Elm wrote about in his letters home.

One of the most touching aspects of letters and photos that John sent home from the battlefield was the story of his battery’s adoption of a stray dog as their “mascot.” This dog’s name was Pro-Jo, short for “projectile,” perhaps due to her climbing into a mortar canon. It was thought that they lost her in Dong Tam when they took her to get shots, but she showed back up later on. By the end of John’s time in Vietnam, he heard that the men that were going to take their leave in Hawaii were planning on bringing Pro-Jo along and finding her a family. It’s rather heartwarming that John Elm’s story in Vietnam ended with him going back home to Pittsburgh and a stray dog finding a home. 

I worked with Lisa Petita (Collections Manager), Tim Neff (Vice President/Director of Museum & Education), and Michael Kraus(Curator). Outside of my main project, my day to day tasks included aiding in the accession of received military artifacts, helping with setting up for events such as the Canon Ball Fundraiser and school visitations, as well as occasionally aiding with the instruction of visiting school groups.

My experiences at Soldiers and Sailors were extremely valuable and I am glad that I have had a chance to intern here. I have gained a greater appreciation for the common man in the military, and the struggles that they have gone through. I also appreciate the great work that the people who work there go through in order to sustain a museum collection, no matter how small. 

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh