A longtime military officer and historian returns to VCU
April 15, 2022
Virginia Commonwealth University alum Michael Lynch, Ph.D., spends a great deal of time studying the past to learn lessons for the future.
A research historian at the Strategic Studies Institute and an assistant professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Lynch conducts and supervises research for senior Army leaders on contemporary issues to provide insight and historical context.
His interest in history blossomed in his youth. An avid reader, he always wanted to visit historical sites. At age 10, he was a junior member of the historical association in Jonesborough, Tennessee, where he grew up.
“My family never wanted to do historical things, just me,” said Lynch, who received his Master of Arts in history from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2001. “Now, I have passed the love of going to historical sites to my kids. When they were little, I would take them to historical or national parks and they had to take a test on three things they learned on whatever tour we took before they could buy anything from the gift shop.”
The military heightened his interest in history
Even though history was a strong draw in his life, his ultimate plan was to become a military officer. He first considered the U.S. Navy because his father had been a Navy hospital corpsman in the Pacific during World War II.
Lynch participated in Junior Navy ROTC all through high school but changed course when he went to college at East Tennessee State University and joined the Army ROTC in his sophomore year.
“When I was running out of money to pay for college in 1981, I enlisted in the Army and went into a reserve unit so I could go to school at the same time,” he said. “I was commissioned at the end of my junior year. I went into active duty after graduating from East Tennessee State.”
After he started active duty, his interest in history intensified.
“History is important to what the Army does,” he said. “I managed to try and do historical things like visit historical sites.”
While stationed in Germany early in his military career, he got involved with historical data collection and helped conduct interviews for oral history projects. He also participated in a tradition known as a staff ride, where officers walk the ground at various battlegrounds to learn lessons from the past.
While in Germany, he was given the task of taking a group on a site trip to Ludendorff Bridge, which was captured by the Allies. The bridge over the Rhine River is close to the site of the 1945 Battle of Remagen.
Lessons from a beloved VCU mentor
Lynch started his master’s degree at VCU in 1997 while stationed in the Combat Service Support Battle Lab at Fort Lee, the same base where his mother had her Women’s Army Corps training. She served in the Army from 1951-53.
“I was about halfway through my military career, and I thought I needed something as a backup,” he said of getting a master’s degree in history.
The work was tough at times, but Lynch found he had a good mentor in professor Joseph W. Bendersky, Ph.D., in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences. At the time, he served as director of the graduate program in history.
“He was tough, but I liked him for that,” Lynch said. “He had high standards. He encouraged me and forced me to pick things I would not have picked and look at those. We still keep in touch. He’s a great guy. I think a lot of him.”
The master’s program in history has a reputation for being a very rigorous one, Bendersky said.
“Performing at this level took extraordinary effort on his part because he did so while daily engaging in his military duties full time,” Bendersky said. “In addition to the excellent quality of his work, what impressed me was his very broadminded approach to history and society generally.”
Lynch’s achievements match those of professionals who have graduated from the most prestigious history programs in the country, Bendersky said.
“He certainly represents the best of historical scholarship, enhancing the graduate level reputation of the VCU History Department with the profession and academia generally,” he said.
Collecting data for the U.S. Army War College
Lynch, who holds a Ph.D. in history from Temple University, began working as a civilian for the U.S. Army War College after retiring from the Army in 2005.
“That’s the best place to do history on the military. I dabbled in as much history as I could. I also did, and still do, staff rides to Gettysburg National Military Park,” he said.
He went to Iraq in 2017 for the Army War College to collect historical data on the status of the mission for Operation Inherent Resolve.
“I went to Iraq as a civilian historian. I was only there about a month. I did 32 unclassified interviews and another four that were classified,” he said. “Those interviews are being used to develop the Army’s official history of Operation Inherent Resolve.”
Lynch has also interviewed Army personnel regarding the 9/11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon. He did a case study on Vietnamese refugees in 1975 for the Army and has done studies on contemporary issues such as Operation Allies, welcoming refugees to Fort Lee.
Honored for his contributions
At the VCU Blake Lecture on April 7, Lynch received the 2022 Graduate Alumni Achievement Award from the Department of History. This is the second year the award was given out.
“I am overwhelmed by the award,” Lynch said. “VCU means a lot to me. Dr. Bendersky gave me the grounding I needed to become a professional historian.”
Lynch was honored for his contributions to the field of public and military history.
“Michael has written numerous case studies for the U.S. Army War College and has supervised several major oral history projects involving U.S. soldiers and their families,” said Emilie Raymond, Ph.D., a professor of history and director of graduate studies in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. In addition, Raymond highlighted Lynch’s book, “Edward M. Almond and the U.S. Army: From the 92nd Infantry Division to the X Corps,” published by University Press of Kentucky, for which he won the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Biographer, 2019.
Lynch, a fan of biographies, decided to write about Virginia Military Institute graduate Lt. Gen. Edward Almond, who fought in both World Wars and the Korean War, after reading a brief two-paragraph narrative about him in a history book. Lynch wanted to learn more, he said.
“Nobody had done anything on him. The more research I did, the more I wanted to do. I wanted to tell the rest of his story,” he said.
For Lynch, the Army is a family business. His wife, Machele, is a former Army officer and now teaches middle school math. His daughter Catherine is an Army engineer officer. Daughter Elizabeth is a graphic artist and son Joseph is a college sophomore on an Army ROTC scholarship, majoring in nursing.
Through his work, both personally and professionally, Lynch, a two-time Ironman triathlete, wants to help the Army get better, he said.
“My colleagues and I are providing insights on historical conflicts for senior leaders today so they can make contemporary decisions,” he said. “The Army has become part of who I am.”