YUKON — Inside his Yukon home, Rick Cacini has an American flag his father received, along with some of the medals James Cacini earned during his long military career.
The display is part pride, part reminder of the sacrifices those like his father have made for their country. That military service was passed on to Rick, who spent 37 years in the U.S. Army before retiring.
“It reminds everyone coming into our house that we put our lives on the line for this country, and that it's a great country,” he said.
But Cacini, 66, also wants future generations to understand their country's history. He recently donated items from his father, who died in 2003, to the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City.
The items included the 45th Infantry Division shoulder sleeve insignia and a very hard-to-find annual similar to a high school or college yearbook that chronicled the activities of the division each year.
“All of this stuff brings back so many memories of what they went through,” Cacini said. “It's a good feeling to be able to share that. There are some things that I kept, but if you can pass on these things and help a younger generation develop a sense of appreciation for those who came before them then it's all worth it.”
James Cacini spent 27 years in the military and was seriously wounded during World War II while fighting in Italy. He later served during the Korean War, working from an airplane as a forward observer. Rick grew up admiring the man his dad became through his service.
“My father meant a lot to me and his military career was something that was very important to him,” he said. “He passed that on to me. There's a sense of pride that comes with serving your country, and I saw that from an early age and wanted to be like him.”
The donation of family heirlooms isn't uncommon, but it is appreciated by museum curators. 45th Infantry Division Museum curator Mike Gonzales said about 90 percent of the items in the museum were donated from private collections.
“It comes up quite often,” Gonzales said. “We are highly dependent on citizens with historic items. Very often it is the relatives of someone who has passed away and they will bring their items to us.”
Gonzales said if the items fall within the scope of the 45th Infantry Division Museum's collection they are accepted, but often they might be from another branch of service.
“In that case we will direct them to another museum where they might be of better use,” he said. “That's more preferable than seeing them end up in a Dumpster somewhere.”
Gonzales said context is one of the most important aspects of accepting donations, especially with photos.
“Often we'll get photos that have something recognizable that allows us to determine where and when it was taken, but sometimes it's just ‘Bill and Joe in Paris, Oct. 1944,' or something like that,” he said. “People often send us computer disks of photos and all we have are the images and a series of numbers that I have no idea what they are.”
Quality is another important factor. The 45th Infantry Division Museum has more than 1 million artifacts in its collection on display and in reserve. Some items come to the museum better than others. In the case of what Cacini donated, the items were in excellent shape.
“The annual he had was virtually in mint condition,” Gonzales said. “He must have thumbed through it once or twice and forgot about it. We have some items that are rode hard and put up wet so whenever we can acquire something that is unique and has survived in immaculate condition it is a bonus.”
For Cacini, donating the items was a way of preserving his father's memory, something his dad would have appreciated.
“I think he would have loved seeing his stuff in a museum,” Cacini said. “I think he's watching all of this. He was a great guy who was proud of his service.”