Military collection business flying high for AF vet
By Cheryl Petersen
Each war has its own nuance. Whether a good war or a bad war, one factor remains true. Veterans have a distinct place in history. “The military has always interested me,” said Mike Kulak of Grand Gorge. “War brings out the best, and the worst, in human beings. It’s important to honor the best.”
Kulak joined the Air Force in 1966 and went through training in Florida. “They trained us how to jump out of helicopters,” he said. “We also would meet in a gymnasium and stand shoulder to shoulder, linked arm in arm in a line, and learn to stomp forward in unison.” Kulak said, adding, “The exercise made me think we were being trained as a dance troupe.”
Kulak was assigned to the 102nd Regiment at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington DC, as a photo/journalist. “I was responsible for covering the riots and news related to the Vietnam War.” Kulak wore olive drab uniforms and drove a Jeep when not in a helicopter hovering over the Capitol.
“A couple of times, while on the ground, we had to form that line we learned in training, and make a wedge and stomp our feet to keep the rioters at bay,” said Kulak. “But the stomping feet was for naught, it didn’t work. The rioters kept doing their thing. They knew the Vietnam War should have never started.” However, in the course of serving in Washington, Kulak attained a greater appreciation for the fact that Americans are able to demonstrate. Some countries don’t allow public demonstrations opposing government policies. “The demonstrators impressed me positively,” added Kulak.
With Veteran’s Day next Monday, many people will be demonstrating their respect for those who fought for the value of freedom. Veterans Day is traced back to November 11, 1918, the day wishfully regarded as the end of the war to end all wars.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”
In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday. In 1954, the word Armistice was replaced with Veterans and November 11 was confirmed as a day to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
Mike Kulak served in the Air Force until 1977. “After the war, I was a policeman for five years on Long Island,” he said. “But, I soon discovered a talent for selling cars, which fit in with my love of cars such as Jaguars.”
Sold European cars
Not the typical car salesperson, Kulak would find old European cars in the United States and bring them back to life. “My buyers were in Europe,” he said. “So, I traveled to Europe. While over there, I started buying old military equipment from the World Wars and brought it to the United States.”
In the 1980s Kulak joined a military collector club. “It was fun. My kids would come with me to military shows,” said Kulak. “In the ’80s, the United States wasn’t involved in a war, so our attitude was different. I began purchasing military items for the sake of interest and learning.”
“One thing led to another and I bought 30 acres in Grand Gorge in 2008 and opened the Military Collection Store.” On Route 23, the Military Collection Store is replete with gear and equipment, much of it for sale, but open each day for learning.
Heavy machinery is part of the collection. The latest piece of rugged equipment came from Vietnam. Kulak climbed up into the tracked vehicle and turned the key to start a thundering rumbling diesel engine. Using an accelerator pedal and hand-sticks to steer, Kulak maneuvered around in the parking lot. “The machine was built in the United States and used in the Vietnam War,” bellowed Kulak over the noise. “It was used to transport ammunition.”
Kulak retrofitted the back of the machine to accommodate benches. “I’ll wrap a canvas over the top and we will be able to use this in parades to carry children and adults so they get a feel for a military vehicle,” said Kulak. “I have rubber pads in stock to place on the metal track so the vehicle can be driven on pavement.” Interestingly, this particular vehicle model was used into the 1990s, even going to Afghanistan.
Inside the Military Collection Store on Route 23, poses a Russian jeep from the East German Army.
“It was built in 1967,” said Kulak. “Year 1991, I bought it in Germany and had it shipped here and then realized there were no miles on the jeep.” Kulak found cosmoline, a material that was used to coat and protect parts on the jeep from salt, still intact on the jeep. “I now rent the jeep out for movies and TV pilots,” said Kulak. “This particular jeep was in the movie, ‘The Good Shepherd’.”
Memorabilia is stocked throughout the 10,000-square-foot building and shop. Kulak has a 1930s gadget that makes original dog tags for customers who so desire a tag. “The store has pins and flags,” said Kulak.
The demands of the military urged new inventions. “Many military items are useful in everyday life,” said Kulak. “The clothing, for example, is warm.” Also sold in the store are ammunition canisters.
“After Governor Cuomo signed the NY SAFE Act, I discovered the Watervliet Arsenal Center in New York squashed all the ammo canisters,” said Kulak. “I looked elsewhere and a month ago, I located ammo cans in Fort Dix, at an auction. I bought the cans and now have a supply of them in the store for sale. The canisters are water proof and tough.”
The ramifications of war vary, along with attitudes surrounding war. But these differences can’t stop us from uniting on Veterans Day to honor the action that sacrifices for the good of others.