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National Museum of American History Commemorates the Vietnam War with the Donation of a Coffin Flag

November 14, 2014

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will receive a coffin flag and other Vietnam War memorabilia from a former fourth-grade class whose students were pen pals with American soldiers serving in Vietnam. The flag was on display at Yorkship Family School in Camden, N.J., and will be donated to the museum on Nov. 14.

Coffin flags are part of the military ritual burial process for active soldiers and veterans. The museum has several in its collection, and the most recent one was acquired from the widow of an Army Ranger sniper who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012.

The donated flag draped the coffin of Army Lt. Eugene Moppert who was a strong enthusiast for the pen pal program. He and his platoon sent letters to the students while serving in South Vietnam where Moppert was killed in action in 1968. The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War was at its peak in 1968. Following his death, his widow Sandra Moppert gave the flag to the fourth-grade class.

The former fourth-grade teacher, Jerry Davis, will join her students in presenting the objects to the museum. Davis did not anticipate that the pen pal homework assignments would turn into a lifelong connection between her, the students and the soldiers.

“This is a great story that needs to be told, and the National Museum of American History is honored to add these Vietnam-era materials to the national collections,” said Kathy Golden, associate curator for the Division of Armed Forces at the museum.

The flag had been hanging on the same wall of the school for almost 50 years, and the donation coincides with the continued marking of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Other objects donated by the former students will include letters, photographs, military patches and other memorabilia sent by the soldiers.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is currently renovating its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.