Graham A. Cosmas (1938-2021)
by Paul A. Thomsen
On March 18, 2021, Graham Athan Cosmas, the Society for Military History’s (SMH) self-effacing and venerable financial shepherd of nearly thirty years, succumbed to the privations of time. From an instructor and, later, a federal service military historian in the 1970s to the longest serving Treasurer in the organization’s history, Graham was a key participant in ensuring the survival of the discipline in the bitter aftermath of the Vietnam War and the essential figure in SMH’s early twenty-first century fiscal prosperity.
For most of his professional life, Graham Cosmas was part of a select group of military historians, applying a rigorous worth ethic in a career spanning teaching, publishing, and service to the American nation. Born to Jean and George Cosmas in 1938 Weehawken, New Jersey, Graham earned his formative education at Columbia University, Oberlin College, and the University of Wisconsin. During the later stages of the Vietnam War, he taught at the University of Texas and the University of Guam. In 1969, he published An Army for Empire, which revealed the McKinley Administration's problematic interactions with the War Department. In December 1973, Graham began working for the United States Marine Corps History and Museums Division, charting the roles of the Marines in the Vietnam War (co-authoring Marine Corps Aviation, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, and, later on, Marines in the Dominican Republic). In 1979, he went onto US Army Center of Military History, writing on the army medical service’s organization, training and essential services in fighting the Second World War (The Medical Department: Medical Service in the European Theater of Operations). In 2001, Graham was awarded the position of Deputy Director of the Joint History Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the national consciousness returned to military concerns after 9/11, Graham Cosmas broadened America's understanding of the forces, missions, and political will, which steered much of the Vietnam War (MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Escalation, and MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Withdrawal), and the architects of America's then-longest war (The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam). They were replete with sage and timely lessons.
Although long unspoken, Graham Cosmas made the modern Society for Military History longitudinally viable. While often soft-spoken and eschewing the limelight, Graham was recognized early on by Brigadier General Edwin Simmons, president of the then-named American Military Institute (AMI), for his meticulous nature and commitment to public history. During the mid-Cold War, AMI had atrophied under a small group of members mostly interested in politicking and throwing semi-private dinners. By 1980, it was time for a change. Simmons tasked Graham Cosmas and Harold Langley to liquidate AMI’s bureaucratic trappings, set up new accounts for events, and aid Robin Higham with Military Affairs. AMI would now be fast, light, and member-oriented. Simmons also tasked Graham with making them more inclusive of the discipline and of public interest. His response was what members later called the “Cosmas Formula,” returning AMI to grass roots industry diversity by recruiting librarians, archivists, museum staff, public historians, and teaching professionals. In 1984, AMI also instituted the “Cosmas Plan”, which included a revamped election schedule (occurring every other year) and a slate of trustees drawn from the new groupings to retain institutional memory and focus on renewal (later, the employees were given the responsibility of maintaining the integrity of the institution to free Trustees for outreach work). Occasionally, Graham also offered several articles and conference papers for the organization. Still, he regularly maintained the books, kept a close watch over business needs, made certain the award accounts were flush with resources capable of weathering economic downturns.
Moreover, Graham Cosmas was SMH’s post-Cold War indispensable man. Around 1990, Graham fell into the organization’s finances, having been placed on the Treasurer/Tellers Committee due to his affinity with numbers. A duty others often saw as tedious, Graham enjoyed tracking the organization’s growing membership, event registrations, and budget. He created clear operating lines for new endeavors and managed investments. It was Graham who President Allen Millett sent out to Kansas to resume a controlling interest in the organization’s direction. With those funds, AMI became the Society for Military History and large annual conferences began to be held. It was Graham that President’s Tim Nenninger and Dennis Showalter sent to transition MA in Kansas to the Journal of Military History in Virginia. Lastly, it was Graham on whom Executive Director Bob Berlin relied to also frugally managed investment returns for awards and ensured the quality food, venues, drinks, and other offerings “were not extravagant.” In the 2010s, Graham’s investment growth briefly risked generating “too much money” for SMH’s non-profit status. The boon led to a restructuring of assets and the granting of extra perks for conference attendees. Until being retired from the field in 2017, Graham Cosmas continued his fiscal SMH labors, indulged in painting miniatures, read extensively, and made certain the community of military historians benefited from the largess. Graham was more than a member of a committee. He was the Treasurer.
The community is diminished by Graham Cosmas’s passing. While sometimes barely noticed by new arrivals sitting in the corner of a room, shuffling quietly between panels or admiring the sights on staff rides, Graham’s labors made much of what members saw, touched, tasted, and took home fiscally possible. It elevated the organization from small dinners with few awards to four day conferences, events, a coterie of awards, and an active outreach system. In the last few years, his health issues made travel problematic, but Graham was always available by phone and email. Annually, Bob Berlin asked conference attendees to remember “the employees are doing this because they love it and we benefit from them being with us. …one day, they will be gone.” There was no service for Graham. His remains were cremated. Still, at the end, Graham Cosmas was not alone. He may not have had immediate blood kin, but he did have a second family, the military historians and the group Bob Berlin brought together.
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