On April 1, 2011, the museum that honors hard-charging General George Patton at Fort Knox, Kentucky, had its grand reopening. Previously known as the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, it is now the General George Patton Museum of Leadership; the "Calvary and Armor" portion relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia.
To get the scoop on this division and what changes it will bring, HistoryNet interviewed Christopher Kolakowski, director of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox.
HistoryNet: First off, tell us a bit about yourself, your responsibilities at the museum, and how you came to be a part of it.Christopher Kolakowski: My career has been devoted to preserving and interpreting the military history of the United States. I’ve written, published, and spoken on various aspects of U.S. military history from 1775 to the present. I grew up in Virginia, the son of an Army ROTC graduate and a teacher, and studied history and communications at Emory & Henry College, followed by a Master’s Degree in Public History from the State University of New York at Albany. I worked for the National Park Service for nine years, a year each at a local historic society in New York and the New York State Capitol as a tour guide, 18 months with the Civil War Preservation Trust saving Civil War battlefields, and three wonderful years as chief preservationist for Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site in Kentucky. After a year in Atlanta as Chief Curator of a museum about the Army Reserve, in late 2009 the Army made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to come to Fort Knox and direct the Patton Museum. As Director I oversee a wonderful staff of five people, set strategic direction for the museum, and generally direct all aspects of the Patton Museum’s operations. Part of my job is to also be a historic expert for Fort Knox and the soldiers stationed here.
HN: Some major changes have been taking place at the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor. Tell us what’s happening.
CK: There’s a lot going on here at Fort Knox, and this is an exciting time to be here. In 2005 Congress directed that the Armor School move to Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). The Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor was directed to divide, with the Armor and Cavalry part moving to Fort Benning to operate as the National Armor and Cavalry Museum. The remainder (20% of the collection, including the General Patton Collection, plus incoming objects from donors and incoming commands) will be recast into the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.That division occurred in September 2010, and we are now operating as the General George Patton Museum of Leadership under the aegis of the U.S. Army Accessions Command. My staff and I work for Accessions Command.
HN: The General Patton Collection—what does it include? What would visitors see?
CK: The Patton Collection is the greatest museum assemblage of General Patton’s belongings in the world. We have the iconic items like his helmet, leather jacket, ivory-handled pistols, and the car he was riding in when he was fatally injured. We also have more intimate objects like his cane from World War I, toys from his childhood, and everything in between.
HN: Apart from the exhibits, the museum is also home to an extensive library and the Patton Archive. What are a few examples of what researchers can find in the collections?
CK: Like the museum, the library has also divided due to BRAC. The manuscripts from the Patton Collection remain, which include a lot of different maps and documents especially from the time he commanded Third Army. We also have many of General Patton’s certificates of promotion to the different ranks he attained. In addition we also have several collections relating to African-Americans here at Fort Knox and various aspects of post history. In the summer of 2011 we are getting the papers of Accessions Command’s first two commanders plus some items related to the history of Army recruiting. Much of these collections has never been used before by researchers.
HN: The Patton Museum Foundation has set a goal of creating a new museum that, in the Foundation’s words, "will set a new standard for military museums." That sounds like a challenge worthy of the general himself. What are some of the plans for achieving this goal, and how will it be funded?CK: It’s funny you ask that, because I am working with them right now on answering that question. We are one of only three Army Museums not tied to a specific branch, unit, or post, which gives us a wide scope of stories to tell—much wider than that of the old Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor. Another aspect is sheer size: the current museum building has 33,000 square feet of display space, which is a lot to fill. By comparison, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans has only 16,000 square feet of displays right now.
The museum’s front area will be open on a reduced capacity until the fall of 2013 with exhibits on General Patton, Fort Knox, and Army leadership. The idea is to give a taste of what is coming in the expanded permanent exhibits. Those larger permanent exhibits will tell the story of Army leadership from 1775 to the present. Funding is coming from the Army, the Foundation, and other partners; we’re still shaking the trees to an extent.
HN: Museum visitors can pose some very unusual and unexpected questions. Are there any that have been put to you that you particularly remember?
CK: Some of the best questions come from people who have ancestors or some other direct connection to a unit or story you are telling. It is always fun to give information and see it mean so much to them. I also like to get questions that seek the deeper reasons or interpretation behind an event or person, such as “How did the Patton of North Africa turn into the Patton of Sicily? How did the Patton of 1943 become the Patton of 1944–45?” These really allow you to get into some great stories and discussions.
HN: Thanks for taking time to share this information with us. Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?
CK: We have some exciting things happening at the museum over the next few years, and I would encourage you and your readers to come out and see us. The best one-stop source of information about the Patton Museum is our website at www.generalpatton.org. Thanks for your interest.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about General George Patton, see World History Group’s publication Patton in His Own Words, edited and annotated by award-winning historian and author Dennis Showalter.