Gateway to the past

Charles Machon, director of the Museum of Missouri Military History, stands next to a display containing a uniform worn by a Missouri soldier during World War I.

Charles Machon, director of the Museum of Missouri Military History, stands next to a display containing a uniform worn by a Missouri soldier during World War I.

Though he may have never donned the uniform of the nation’s armed forces, local resident Charles Machon supports the community through his dedicated efforts to preserve and record the state’s military history.

The director of the Museum of Missouri Military History located at the Missouri National Guard Headquarters, Machon, 43, Iberia, explains that this position is a good fit since he has always been a student of history.

“I was really good with history in school,” he said. “But my parents said I couldn’t do much with it but teach.”

Armed with the desire to become a social studies teacher, he enrolled at then Central Missouri State University to pursue a social studies degree in the fall of 1988.

But as Machon recalls, an advertisement found on a bulletin board on campus helped shape the direction of his career.

“The college was looking for a work study in the campus archives and museum,” he said. “It was something that I really grew to enjoy.”

During his senior year, the young student was approached by history department chair who offered him a graduate assistant position — an unexpected opportunity that would help cover the tuition costs for Machon to pursue his graduate degree.

Machon accepted, and after graduating with his bachelor’s in history in December 1993, began working 20 hours a week in the campus archives and museum while at the same time pursuing a master’s degree.

In December 1995, he graduated with his master’s in history but soon discovered the schism that often exists in the teaching field with regard to one’s level of education and experience.

“I searched for (teaching) jobs at the smaller schools, but they were worried about having to pay more for someone with a master’s degree,” he said. “The larger schools were looking for someone with actual teaching experience, whereas my experience was in the archives and museums,” he added.

For the next two years, he worked part-time jobs until being hired as the “half-time” museum director for the Johnson County Historical Society in Warrensburg.

The following year, in early 1999, he was finally able to apply his education and experience when he learned of the newly formed Museum of Missouri Military History and their search for a director. Machon applied for the position and was hired in April the same year.

“It seemed to be the ideal job for me,” Machon asserted. “My master’s was focused in military history and I had a museum and archives background,” he said, adding, “And it also offered health and retirement benefits which hadn’t been available to me in my previous part-time job.”

Initially, the museum was operated as a state facility, but as Machon explained, it received federal recognition in 2009, which opened up additional funding for upgrades of equipment and facilities. “

When he first took over the reins of museum director 14 years ago, Machon notes that the archives contained four filing cabinets of records; the museum now has more than 40 filing cabinets bursting with archival information and photographs from the state’s military history.

“One of my earliest challenges was getting the word out to the (military) units in the state about our existence,” he said. “I’ve had units that have said they wished they knew about (the museum) earlier because they discarded information and photographs that could have been archived and made available for research.”

Throughout the years, Machon’s job has exposed him to many interesting facets of the state’s military history; and capitalizing on this knowledge, a publisher has contracted Machon to write a historical reference on the state’s military history as part of a multi-state historical series. The book, Machon said, should be available next year.

For more information on the Museum of Missouri Military History (hours of operation, location, etc.), please visit www.moguard.com and click on the “Veteran/Retiree” link.

Jeremy P. Amick writes veteran-related articles on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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