VA Museum and Medical Center

History is fraught with controversy, and controversy is fraught with history. Military history and its museum exhibits have caused a row or two. In 1994, when the Enola Gay was to go on display at the Smithsonian during World War II 50th anniversary commemorations, controversy raged about this B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima to end the war. The Smithsonian was forced to pull the plug on its plans for the Enola Gay and change the program.

Recently, controversy again swirled around the World War II Pacific theater. A framed 1945 headline “Japs Surrender” was removed from a wall display after an employee said the term “Jap” was derogatory.

But this was not just any venue: The artifact was hanging at a VA medical center — the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis to be exact.

Here’s a shock: veterans complained about the move, and groups like the local Marine Corps league balked it was a “slap in the face of the U.S. Military.” 

Medical center director Tom Mattice tucked the period newspaper away. He has posed the question of the display’s appropriateness to the VA’s national ethics office (who knew?), wondering if this would constitute a national policy. Mattice has stated the facility is a medical center and not a museum, though we would think the two can happily coexists. Veterans. History. Museum. Works for us.

We are unsure if the employee understood this was an actual newspaper from 1945, that the “Japs” was period parlance and its very survival as an artifact transcends real or perceived racism. The Japanese did surrender to people receiving care at that facility. Seems sort of ironic. These veterans — military veterans — probably were thrilled the center (unlike some more prominent facilities like the one in Washington, D.C.) made a significant effort to incorporate military history into the décor.

In the meantime, “Germany Surrenders” still hangs, and the VA will replace “Japs Surrender” with something gentler like “Japanese Surrender” or “Victory in the Pacific.” Maybe something as positive and inspirational.

World War II veterans continue to pass away in large numbers. Someday, few in the VA system (or elsewhere) will care about the history of that headline.

The story elicited more than 300 comments.

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