MILFORD, Mass. -- Housed in the oldest Massachusetts National Guard armory, completed in 1891, is a treasure trove of military artifacts and archives. Since 1995 this armory in Worcester is home of the Massachusetts National Guard Military Museum and Archives.
“Official opening day was 1995,” said Leonid E. Kondratiuk, Director of the Massachusetts National Guard Military Museum and Archives, and Military Historian for 20 years. “Unofficially, it has been open since the fall of 1994.”
"I majored in History and then joined the Mass. Guard,” said Kondratiuk. “Then I went to graduate school to specialize in military history. Before there was Active Guard-Reserve, there was extended active duty so I went on that to be a Military Historian. I was assigned to the National Guard Bureau.”
From there he became the director of the museum where he fulfills the missions that are required of him, said Kondratiuk.
“We have two missions,” said Kondratiuk. “One mission is to preserve the archives of the Office of the Adjutant General from 1778 to about 1975. The biggest bulk of the collection is Civil War records. The other thing we do here is storing records of every service member from Massachusetts. We store [the records] from 1775 to 1980 here.”
Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the Adjutant General to keep military records not only for guardsmen, but anyone who enters active duty from Massachusetts, said Kondratiuk.
“Also, we have a modern military records office in Milford, which does records from 1940 to the present,” said Kondratiuk.
“We’re the only state that still has its own military archives that’s still controlled by the Adjutant General,” said Kondratiuk. “We’re the only state that does that; we’re unique in that respect. The other thing that makes us unique is that we’re the only state that has such a complete record of its service men and women.”
The museum does not just house the records, the staff help to aid veterans, and families, looking for information about their service.
“We get requests for anywhere from 12 to 20 records every day,” said Kondratiuk. “Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is because you have to research it and sometimes the record is not reproducible so we have to retype it.”
The second part of the mission is to house artifacts and smaller museum displays, said Kondratiuk. They concentrate on the history of the Massachusetts National Guard from 1636 to the Present.
Also, Mr. Kondratiuk and an archivist at the Museum, Keith Vezeau, contributed to a PBS program on the Yankee Division called “Yanks Fight the Kaiser.”
“We have the largest collection of Yankee Division records and photos outside of Washington,” said Kondratiuk. “So that’s the other thing we concentrate on is the History of the Yankee Division.”
In the end, Kondratiuk enjoys the work he does at the Massachusetts National Guard Military Museum and Archives.
“It’s a great honor to try and preserve the history of the Massachusetts National Guard,” said Kondratiuk. “The other thing I like doing is working with veterans and their families.”
“Family members have come to me looking for records on their veterans,” said Kondratiuk. “In this case a D-Day paratrooper jumped into France, the first stick in the 101st Airborne and when he is discharged his parachuter’s badge is missing and his CIB. Also, there was a bronze star he was supposed to get, but didn’t. So with the family’s help, we put together a packet and sent it to St. Louis, National Personal Records center. He has since received his medals posthumously.
“I really like doing things like that,” said Kondratiuk. ”Helping veterans and their families get their missing awards.”
Also, he enjoys teaching people about what their family members did during their time in service, said Kondratiuk. Not just showing them the records, but helping them to understand what happened during their time in that unit. “Our goal here is to appeal to Massachusetts guardsmen and the public,” said Kondratiuk. “We invite everyone to come here and take a look at their history so they’ll come back with an appreciation for the Mass. Guard's long history. Of all the states, this is the most historic. It has more accomplishments and a greater record of any of the 54 national guards. That’s what we try to preserve here. “