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
     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
     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
     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
     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.