DVIDS – News – Remembering Kenneth E. Stager: A legacy of passion and inspiration

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LOS ANGELES— Imagine collecting bird specimens while under artillery fire. That was the life of World War II veteran and former Emeritus Senior Curator of Ornithology and Mammalogy at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Kenneth E. Stager. Stager’s post-war contributions extended far beyond the battlefield into the realms of ornithology and environmental conservation. Veterans like Stager will be remembered and honored this Memorial Day for their service and dedication to our nation.

Stager was born on Jan. 28, 1915, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where he moved during his childhood to various locations, including Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and Los Angeles, where he graduated from Manual Arts High School. Stager’s academic pursuits led him to the University of California Los Angeles, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1940. Shortly after, he began his career at the Natural History Museum of L.A. County in late 1941 under curator George Willett. Stager was also in the U.S. Army Reserve, serving part-time while continuing his career in zoology.

The outbreak of World War II interrupted his career. Stager’s unit was activated and deployed to the pacific theater, where he served as a U.S. Army liaison officer with the Chinese Army in Burma. He commanded the headquarters company of the northern combat area command and a heavy weapons company. Stager received a Bronze Star for his bravery and service in Merrill’s Marauders infantry unit and the United States of America Typhus Commission Medal in 1945 for controlling “scrub typhus fever” in Assam and Myanmar (formally Burma).

Stager’s passion for ornithology flourished while he was deployed. He collected 139 bird specimens, including a prized silver pheasant, while under Japanese artillery fire. He would ask for cotton from the combat medics to prepare the specimens for collection in an effort to contribute to the avian world.

Upon returning to civilian life, Stager was discharged as a captain in 1946 and appointed curator of the museum’s ornithology and mammalogy departments. He was promoted to senior curator of ornithology in 1961, took charge of the habitats division, and was the coordinator of the life sciences field programs.

He was a prolific collector who organized and participated in many privately sponsored expeditions, including trips to the Galapagos Islands, Australia, and many other countries, bringing rare specimens that provided critical insights into avian biodiversity.

“We’ve got about 124,000 specimens in our collection, and he’s responsible for about 29,000 of those,” said Associate Curator of Ornithology at the Natural History Museum of L.A. County Dr. Allison J. Shultz, “What’s really significant is that he went to a lot of places that were under threat from deforestation or from land use changes.”

During his 1958 trip to Clipperton Island, 800 miles southwest of Acapulco, Stager succeeded in eliminating the feral pigs that had devastated the tiny atoll and collected a specimen of the South American cuckoo bird Coccyzus melacoryphus, which was taken to North America for the first time.

In remembrance of Memorial Day, military members will reflect on the lives of veterans like Stager, who continued to serve their community and country after their military careers ended. Stager’s legacy in ornithology and conservation remains a testament to his life’s work. His time in service reflects a deep commitment to his country and the natural world. Those interested in exploring Stager’s work and the museum’s diverse offerings can find more information on the Natural History Museum’s website: nhm.org. The museum is free for active or retired U.S. military with ID.

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Date Taken: 05.09.2024
Date Posted: 05.14.2024 19:35
Story ID: 471237
Location: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, US
Hometown: BELL, CALIFORNIA, US
Hometown: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, US
Hometown: UNIONTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA, US






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