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Picayune People: Army veteran Jeff Copsetta brings history to life at Commemorative Air Force Museum

Jeff Copsetta

Director Jeff Copsetta in front of a display at the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force Museum, 2402 S. Water St. in Burnet. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley

History often springs to life at the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force Museum under the direction of U.S. Army veteran Jeff Copsetta of Burnet. 

When he took over as director in mid-2020, he formed Company B, a group of historical re-enactors, which is on hand for major events with members acting as docents dressed for the time period. He also co-hosts a World War II podcast called “What’s the Scuttlebutt” and recently participated in the short film “Walking Point,” which made an appearance at the 10th annual Austin Revolution Film Festival in February. 

Copsetta was the military advisor and costume designer for the film, which follows the story of Duke, a Doberman enlisted in the country’s Dogs for Defense program, his war handler, and his original owner, a little boy named Tommy. Copsetta even got some screen time in a speaking role as a war correspondent. 

“When you love something, you love it, and for me, that’s history,” Copsetta said.

He gained insight into unique ways to animate history during his five years as the Living History coordinator at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. He brought that experience with him when he was named director of the Burnet museum, located at 2402 S. Water St. (U.S. 281).

Company B is made up of living history performers who dress in authentic war uniforms. They are similar to historical re-enactors in that they are dedicated to sharing knowledge of a specific time period with others by embodying a person who lived through it. That’s where the similarity ends. 

“We don’t try to portray a particular person; we don’t portray a particular event,” Copsetta said. “We pay homage to those who did wear the uniform and those who did participate in these events by giving an all-encompassing outlook.”

Groups like Company B engage museum visitors in ways that stationary exhibits can’t.

“To actually see someone in uniform instead of a mannequin and to talk to them and listen to them, it’s just different,” Copsetta explained. “People absorb the information a lot better. You don’t always remember the first time you saw something, but you definitely remember the first time you felt it. That’s what living history is all about.” 

Copsetta often can be spotted decked out in a World War II uniform alongside other living history performers during events at the museum.

A history buff, he has spent the majority of his life specializing in World War II. His fascination with the time period began during his formative years when his maternal grandfather, who was a World War II Navy veteran, and his childhood neighbor Bob, who served in the Marines during the war, were his role models.

“There was just something about World War II that always grasped me,” Copsetta said. “It had a hold on me.”

He credits his service in the Army, during which he was deployed to Baghdad, as motivation to keep the stories of the fallen alive today.

“I feel a strong connection with the (people) that served during World War II because war throughout the ages hasn’t changed,” he said. “The names change, the places change, but there’s something about war that doesn’t. It’s an entity all by itself.” 

Copsetta has an extensive personal collection of artifacts, such as newsletters, photographs, and ship models from the World War II time period, which he sometimes integrates into the museum’s collection. He continues to learn as much as he can about the men and women who don’t make it back from their time of service

As museum director, he oversees programs, assists in educational outreach such as the Highland Lakes Squadron Cadets, runs social media accounts, helps organize the squadron’s annual air show, and plans special exhibits, such as the one on Pearl Harbor made available to museum guests on the anniversary of the attack. 

To learn more about the museum, Company B, or how to become a living history performer, call 512-756-2226.