Sykesville resident's connection to D-Day spurred creation of military museum

A helmet and a helmet liner. A belt with sand still in it. A parachute.

The items displayed on Frederick "Butch" C. Maisel III's table were all part of the Battle of Normandy.

Many were abandoned by soldiers soon after they landed on the beaches of France 70 years ago or in the days that followed as the Allies fought their way off the beachhead.

Each item carries a story. Some parts are known – the helmet was worn by the Sykesville resident's dad, Maj. Frederick C. Maisel.

Others stories, such as what happened to the parachute – are not as clear.

"It got shot up," Christian Maisel, Butch Maisel's son, said, as he pointed to holes in the chute. "We'll never actually know the story behind this one."

After his father's death in 1986 at the age of 67, Butch Maisel made it his goal to find out more about what happened to the major and the men who served under him during that chaotic time at Normandy.

As company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, Maisel was the first man out of his landing craft on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944.

From there, Maisel spent 16 days fighting to reach La Glacerie where he was severely wounded in his arm and foot.

"A lot of people just look at D-Day and that's that," Butch Maisel said. "A lot of units had their major causalities come after D-Day. For the drive inland, the Germans just set up ambush points all the way. There were 9,000 dead Americans. Not from D-Day, but from the days following D-Day."

Christian never had a chance to meet his grandfather, but he has met many of the men who served under him.

"As a kid ... one of the first veterans I ever met, I still remember everything he told me about my grandfather," Christian Maisel said. "There were some funny stories — and not. Fifteen years of talking to these guys, you could sit here for two days (telling stories)."

Now a first lieutenant in the Maryland National Guard, Christian realizes all that the vets shared with him.

"I appreciate everything," he said. "I get the jargon and their humor."

Both father and son have traveled to Normandy on several occasions to retrace the steps the soldiers took in the early days of June, steps many believe turned the tide of the war.

"There is tons of stuff sitting all over the place," Butch Maisel said, of the scene in France, the object of worldwide attention this weekend. "Bunkers, tunnels. It is amazing what is all still there."

Butch Maisel has become close to several French families during his visits. Several let him explore their property and have given him many of the items in his current collection.

"People have been very generous," he said. "I have a piece of an Army combat shoe where the guy got shot in the foot. A museum curator gave it to me."

While the two have a personal connection to Normandy, their collection is not limited to World War II.

The two have collected artifacts and prepared lectures on all American wars, from the Revolutionary War to present day. As curators of the collection, their hope is to open a museum on the grounds of Boys' Latin School in Baltimore, where both are teachers, in the near future.

"We've been discussing it and planning it the last 20 years," Butch Maisel said. "In the next year or so, we might have a permanent structure."

While the museum would house the Maisel's extensive collection, the building would also have a library and a conference room, Butch said.

"My goal is to have students be able to use it and other people," he said, envisioning monthly talks at the museum and various other educational programs.

"My bucket list is to go back one more time," he said, of a future trip to the beaches of France. "I would like to take my whole family and go one more time to get some closure."

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