Ohio native Josh Mann, a Sergeant First Class in the state’s National Guard, comes by his passion for all things Army honestly. His father was a “weekend historian,” Mann told the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch in July. The elder Mann took his son to his first historical reenactment at the tender age of one month.
“Any family vacations we went on, we made a stop at a historical battlefield or cemetery,” Mann explained. “The biggest family vacation we ever went on was to Gettysburg.” That, he added, was better than most kids’ traditional ideas of a family trip – even to Disney World.
Originally, Mann signed on to the National Guard for purely economic reasons: he wanted lower tuition costs at college. But what started as financial motivation soon morphed into a love of the Ohio National Guard’s past: specifically, the history, data, and artifacts that tell the state’s story on the battlefield.
Mann has been with the Guard for more than 23 years. More than a decade ago, he called then-historian Lieutenant Colonel Greg Rogers to ask whether he could do his job for one year, to help him determine if he wanted to reenlist. Rogers said yes, and the rest is, well, history. Approximately one month ago, Mann reenlisted yet again, for another six-year hitch.
Now, Mann’s collection of artifacts, documents and other memorabilia is bursting at the proverbial seams. His goal over the next few years is to find a permanent home for the items, where they can be properly and fully displayed.
In the meantime, most are stored in huge filing cabinets and one massive vault from which Mann extracts objects to show curious onlookers.
Currently, Mann explained, his favorite part of the job is traveling to teach others about the Guard’s history. He recently returned from Belgium and France, where he educated people about the Guard’s participation in World War II.
Its history in Ohio dates back 230 years, and it is complex, multi-dimensional and important. Mann loves all of it. He even missed the regiment’s annual birthday party in July so he could lead the venture to Europe.
Lieutenant Colonel Rogers told the Dispatch, “I always say that my biggest contribution to the Guard has been keeping Josh Mann,” he said, laughing. Furthermore, Rogers explained, Mann has an innate ability to take ephemeral ideas and bring them into concrete being.
“He has a heart for history,” Rogers said proudly. “And for preserving history. He really wants to be here, and you can tell.” Others have taken on the role simply as an adjunct to their regular duties, but not Mann.
“I’ve been growing and developing the collections into something we can use to educate soldiers and the public on what we’ve been doing for the last 230 years,” Mann explained. “Soldiers are reluctant to think that what they do is important.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, said Mann. And it’s not just the flags and the maps and the guns that are important. Mann insisted that personal memorabilia matters just as much, perhaps more sometimes.
As an example, he pointed to a pristine package of chewing gum, sent to a soldier by his mother, along with other goodies. The soldier was subsequently captured by the enemy. “The individual soldier’s experience speaks to me,” Mann told the Dispatch.
Others will remember battle plans and operational documents, but for Mann, it is the personal items that are especially prized. “The bigger items are going to get written about,” he acknowledged. “People are going to analyze those. But a lot of times, individual stories get left behind or forgotten.”
If Mann can achieve his goal of a museum for the collection within his last tour of duty in the Guard, he will be fully satisfied. “[That is] what I’d like to leave as my legacy after these final six years,” he said. Meanwhile, the Ohio National Guard’s history seems secure, as long as it rests in the hands of Sergeant Josh Mann.