One Man's Dream Of A Military Museum Realized - Brevard, NC

 

August 28, 2017

Matt McGregor

Veterans, local officials and others joined Emmett Casciato (holding scissors) Friday for the museum's ribbon cutting ceremony.

The Western North Carolina Military History Museum began with a Korean War U.S. M1 carbine rifle and Emmett Casciato's fascination with military history.

"It all started with that rifle I found at a gun show," said Casciato on Friday after the ribbon cutting for the museum's new home in the former county administration building beside the courthouse. "Then, I wanted to get a bayonet to go with it, then some metals and another weapon. I had always had an interest in military history, but I never pursued it like I have in the last 15 years."

When his daughter, Abby, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, commonly known as West Point, in 2006, he became even more enthusiastic about delving into military history.

His father, Amato Casciato, was in the Navy in the Landing Craft Infantry on ship number U.S. 675 during World War II.

After retiring from teaching physical education at a high school in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2012, Casciato was able to devote more time to reading and collecting.

"I started doing exhibits on Memorial Day years ago, with one little table in West Palm Beach," Casciato said.

As his collection of artifacts from his father's time and items he gathered through networking grew, he said his connections to military history curators and his display expanded.

He came to Brevard 18 months ago, when he started the process of establishing a museum, including presentations to Transylvania County commissioners.

Commission Chairman Larry Chapman, who spoke at the ribbon cutting, said Casciato had initially described the museum as a "gypsy."

"I said, 'What do you mean, Emmett?' And he told me it had no home, and that he was in the process of packing his stuff up from the Heritage Museum," Chapman said. "So, we began looking around, and then I started thinking we got this little building here, and this might be an option."

Casciato had held a three-week exhibit at the Aethelwold Hotel in downtown Brevard, then moved to the Transylvania County Heritage Museum, where his exhibit expired in May.

That month, a majority of the county commissioners voted to allow the WNC History Museum to lease the former county administrator's building for a year.

"For myself, this has been a long journey," Casciato said. "It's always been one of my life goals to start a military history museum."

Lt. Gen. John Brown, who commanded the Third Armored Division in Germany during the Gulf War, told the audience at the ribbon cutting he first met Casciato when he visited his exhibit at the Heritage Museum.

"If you know Emmett like I know him," he said, "you know I walked into the Heritage Museum intending to be there for 20 minutes and came out two-and-a-half hours later, when I finally got to leave."

Brown said that every time he walks into the new facility he's reminded of two things.

"First, what a dump it was two months ago before Emmett went in there, and, two, the words of our Commander-in-Chief Ronald Reagan when he once spoke at Arlington Cemetery," Brown said. "He issued a challenge to every American citizen, saying, 'freedom is something we can't pass to our children in their bloodstreams. Freedom has to be taught, it has to be fought for, and if we don't do that for our children, then someday we may have to turn to our children's children and have to describe to them what it used to be like to live in a free America.'"

Casciato and the others who helped put the museum together have answered that challenge, said Brown.

"What a tremendous tool it can be, and I can't wait until visitors of Brevard walk into this tiny facility in the weeks and months ahead and recognize the service of every veteran who ever wore the uniform of our nation from Western North Carolina," Brown said.

Major Gen. Joseph Taluto, who commanded the 42nd Infantry Division in Iraq, as well as commanding troops in New York City during September 2011, also spoke at the opening.

"What a glorious day it is for Brevard to have this opportunity to 'honor, educate and preserve,'" Taluto said, referencing the motto of the museum. "It's a tremendous job, and I want to thank the city, Transylvania County and Commission Chairman Larry Chapman for making this building available to Emmett and his team. What a wonderful thing to do."

Casciato said he wouldn't have been able to make the museum happen without Chapman.

"He was for this museum from the beginning, and he's done so much for me and he's done so much for the community," Casciato said.

Chapman said it hasn't been a "seamless process."

"I've been to many board meetings in which we thought we were getting close to having this done, then leaving disappointed," Chapman said. "Emmett would come to the commissioner meetings and I'd meet him at the door and say, 'be easy, we are going to try to make this happen,' because he'd get so excited.' And now we are here. It's happened."

Chapman said the museum belongs to everyone.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your museum; veterans, this is your museum; and this is our children's museum," he said. "We see what is going on around the country, trying to rewrite history, or restore history, or, whatever, but history is history and it's to be studied and learned from, and to be maintained, and what Emmett has done here is not just for the past, but for the future, and I encourage everyone to get involved."

Casciato said that, in creating the museum, he wanted people, especially young people, to understand how important the U.S. history is, which is why he wants the museum to become not just a place to come and visit, but to be involved in.

Matt McGregor

"We are going to have lectures, and a movie night in our classroom, and my wife, Toni, has written to principles at different schools to encourage them to get their kids here for field trips," Casciato said. "Also, for a $25 contribution, you can get a year membership, and we have membership cards that will get you into special events."

Museum entry is free but donations are accepted. "We will be open from Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.," Casciato said.

He closed the ceremony by saying, "my heart and soul have always been with the veterans, though I've never served a day in my life. So, I commend all of you who served, and the families you left behind."

Casciato said, once everyone steps in the museum, they won't believe it's in Brevard.

"I'm very proud of it," he said.

 
 

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