University of Delaware Office of Public Relations The Messenger Vol. 5, No. 1/1995 His Orders: Preserving History at the Pentagon The military is one of the major consumers of history in the government," says Wayne M. Dzwonchyk, Delaware '72, '75M. Since 1988, Dzwonchyk has been an historian to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), based at the Pentagon. "The Joint Chiefs of Staff is really where the action is in the military," he says. "They're very interested in history, and they often argue by means of historical analogy, so they have to be accurate on the facts." That's where Dzwonchyk comes in. For an historian particularly interested in "policy-level stuff," working where he does has been exhilarating. He has spent hours interviewing Secretary of Defense Dick Cheyney and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell. At Powell's retirement party, Dzwonchyk's conversation was with former President George Bush. For a recent commemoration of World War II, it was Dzwonchyk who briefed Gen. John Shalikashvili, current JCS chairman, on the Normandy landings, the march into Germany and the Dresden bombings. Federal historians like Dzwonchyk perform a number of functions. To coincide with the World War II commemoration, for instance, Dzwonchyk co-authored A Brief History of the U.S. Army in World War II. Before coming to the JCS, Dzwonchyk worked for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. As a World War II specialist, he provided information to the public, detailing the day-by-day actions and locations of individual Army units. Veterans looking back on their days in combat often would call the Pentagon to ask exactly where they had served. Understandably, soldiers in action often had more on their minds than geography. Not all of Dzwonchyk's work is so accessible. Some is not even available. His office's ongoing chronicle of how the JCS has affected presidential decision-making remains classified. Nor is his work restricted to the distant past. "We might be asked to investigate issues like roles and missions or the division of resources between the armed services, to provide historical background to current issues and even to anticipate trends." He might also do research for members of Congress. Whatever he does, Dzwonchyk keeps the simple aim of the historian as his touchstone. "To discover the facts to the best of my ability" is how he describes his brief. "History," he says, "is really a way of thinking, a mental discipline." It's a discipline he first learned at the University of Delaware, where the "precise, meticulous and humane" Willard A. Fletcher, professor of German history, was a role model, he says. That discipline is particularly important to the federal historian, since being an employee of the institution he seeks to document might seem to put him in a compromising position. Dzwonchyk is conscious of the pejorative "court historian" label, and is quick to discount it. "I'm not there just to make people feel good," he insists. "You'll always get the color of the institution, but I've tried not to let that coloring affect my objectivity. In fact, all the federal historians I've met try to maintain that kind of integrity. That's necessary to the job of an historian and it better serves the agency we work for. The American people are owed an accounting of what is done on their behalf." Dzwonchyk is more than a custodian of memory, of course. "History has always been one of the best ways of training soldiers," he observes. "Also, having an historical officer gives perspective, helps in responses to issues, serves as an institutional memory. Very often, public officials turn over every few years, whereas policy issues can last decades, so it's useful to have an historical perspective. "I don't see how you can understand some of these dilemmas, like Yugoslavia, without a sense of history," Dzwonchyk says. On the home front, Dzwonchyk has only one martial pursuit: target shooting. Otherwise, his interests are eminently peaceable: philately, classical music, the mystery writer P.D. James. He spends much of his time working with the Cub Scouts, and as his three kids grow up, he's gradually being promoted to the Boy Scouts. He lives on the edge of the historic district in Laurel, Md., in a gray, three-story, wood-frame house that he and his wife, Melanie, are restoring, incrementally, to its Victorian glory. The Pentagon, too, is being refurbished, incrementally-one side at a time. "It was built fairly rapidly in 1942 when comfort and a humane environment weren't what it was about," Dzwonchyk says. But, life there has its compensations, not the least of which is the people. "I've found military people to be very straight arrows, very decent, very honest," says Dzwonchyk. "They have the same concerns everybody else does. I've been very impressed with the calibre of the people." Of all those impressive people, most remarkable of all, he says, is Gen. Powell. "Colin Powell has real charisma, and he has a way with people that inspires morale. He's very sensitive to history and very supportive of our branch and what it's trying to do." In an era when, as Dzwonchyk puts it, "people's memories are shorter than ever," it's important to Dzwonchyk that someone like Powell-a subject of history and a maker of history-is also an avid consumer of history and a champion of the historian's art. -Steven O'Connor, Delaware '95 Ph.D.