Westrip Book Collection Will Enhance Military Library

The Nebraska National Guard Museum will gain a significant addition to its library on September 22nd, 2018, thanks to a generous donation from John and Miriam Siehl Kujac.  The Kujac’s had been searching for a new home for their extensive book collection dedicated to the Enlisted men, women, and company grade Officers of the Vietnam War.  They partnered with Berry Law Firm to help find a new showcase for the works and together were able to secure placement as a a centerpiece of the library of the Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward, Nebraska.

Library Focuses on Vietnam Veterans

While the collection spans nearly 300 works from different time periods, it heavily emphasizes the Vietnam War, and particularly focuses on the experiences of Enlisted Men and Women. The volumes tell the war in the words of the line company infantrymen, squad leaders, sergeants, platoon leaders, company commanders, combat medics, artillerymen, mortar men, LRRPs, forward air controllers, pathfinders, helicopter pilots, crew chiefs and door gunners, navy SEALs, brown water sailors, and graves registration personnel (perhaps the most grim military occupation in the entire war).

One of the goals of the library is to provide a consolidated collection to allow future historians access to memoirs and source material to better tell the stories of the men who fought for America in her wars. The collection includes many autobiographies from the war, with such classics as Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and Franklin Miller’s Reflections of a Warrior. It provides further reference material for the surrounding events in the U.S. at the time with works like Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

The collection also adds substantially to the library’s collections of works on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, and contains additional materials for the major figures of World War II and the early 20th Century.

Reception to be Held on September 22nd

The Nebraska National Guard Museum, the Kujac family, and Berry Law Firm will jointly host a public reception in the library of the Nebraska National Guard Museum on September 22nd to commemorate the dedication and serve refreshments. The time of the dedication ceremony is tentatively set for 2 PM.

Dedicated to George Frederick Westrip

With their donation, the Kujac’s wished to commemorate the service of George Frederick Westrip, Private, Company C, 25th Michigan Infantry Regiment, whose civil war service epitomizes the common suffering and extreme sacrifice endured by legions of average Americans who have served in the armed forces of the United States.

Private Westrip, married, father of three small boys, drafted at 38 years of age in 1862, campaigned for two years for the Union. He began with the Army of The Cumberland under General William Rosecrans, first battling from east to west across Kentucky at places like Louisville, Bowling Green and Lexington, then in reverse direction battling from west to east across Tennessee at places like Shelbyville, Stones River, Franklin, Cumberland Gap, and Nashville, eventually joining General John Schofield’s Army of The Ohio for the Eastern Tennessee Knoxville campaign during the bitter winter of 1863-64.

In April 1864, Private Westrip, along with his unit, was ordered to join General William T. Sherman for the March to Atlanta. Halfway between Chattanooga and Atlanta, a few days after the great Battle of Resaca, Georgia, in mid-May, 1864, at a crossroads named Cassville, Private Westrip was captured by Confederate forces.

First interned at Andersonville POW camp, Andersonville, Georgia, Private Westrip was later moved to Cahaba POW camp near Selma, Alabama, as Union forces threatened Andersonville toward the end of the war. Liberated from Cahaba Prison as the war ended, Private Westrip was moved by Union forces to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to be repatriated north to home by way of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

He was hospitalized for three weeks in Vicksburg while recovering from dysentery and other deprivations due to his imprisonment. After being deemed once again healthy enough to travel, Private Westrip was loaded onto the steamship Sultana for the first leg of the trip back to Michigan. The Sultana was designed to carry 375 passengers, but became overloaded with approximately 2,000 former POWs.

On April 27, 1865, seven miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, around 2 A.M., the Sultana experienced disaster. While waddling up the flood-swollen Mississippi River, her boilers exploded and killed most of the people on board: blowing them apart, scalding them to death, or sending them to drown in the river. Private Westrip is listed in the official military records that he “died on the Sultana.” It is believed that he died in the initial explosion. No identifiable remains of him were ever found. His unidentified remains, if any were ever found, are interred in the National Cemetery located in West Memphis, Tennessee, in a section filled with hundreds of other graves marked with a small headstone inscribed only with the word: Unknown.

Private Westrip is a great, great grandfather of Miriam Siehl Kujac, one of the benefactors of the book collection, who believes that it is important to teach the next generation about their ancestors: their life, hardships, and sacrifices they made, and in an age-appropriate way, the legacy of service and sacrifice they created. Together with her husband John Kujac, they hope that their collection can help share the stories of the forgotten for generations to come.