Residents help Legion create veterans’ museum

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away were the words of a famous American war leader and hero as he was retiring from active duty.

Sadly, somehow the memories of the terrible sacrifices our service men and women have made in previous wars have faded, as we fail to teach and remind the young people of the devastating price of war, and of the respect and gratitude due to the American veterans.

The late Dr. Mark Ervin, who entered the service during World War II at the age of 18, served in a chemical mortar battalion that was the first unit to liberate a concentration camp.

Hesitant for a long time to talk about his experiences and memories of the war for many years, Ervin finally shared some of his memories.

In an excerpt from a war stories book, edited by the late Charles Mills, former owner of The Leader-Union, he said, I have hesitated to give my personal account. Most real heroes are dead; others endured more terrible, lengthy ordeals. But some of us should tell it, as it was, before none are left to tell.

Not many are left to tell about that war, but the Veterans Educational Museum has been established in the American Legion Home in Vandalia in an effort to preserve and share Fayette Countys history of the men and women who served their country.

More than 800 items military items have been donated to the museum by Fayette County veterans and their families.

The Veterans Wall Display is located in front of the Legion Home, which is located at 321 S. Seventh St. Dedicated in 2003, the wall lists more than 7,000 Fayette County veterans.

Also on display outside the museum is a 75mm pack Howitzer that was used in World War II.

John Blythe and Floyd Meseke, both of whom have contributed generously to the museum, recently conducted a personal and informational tour. Meseke served in World War II with the 11th Armored Division.

As you walk through the entrance of the Legion Home, your self-guided tour begins with the murals along the hallway.

Painted by Kim Shanks, the murals depict realistic scenes and symbols from each war and conflict, except the most recent ones; Shanks is in the process of creating a mural to represent those

In the front of the museum is an impressive display of 45 flags of nations who have been allies of the United States. Display cases throughout the room hold artifacts from wars and conflicts through Desert Storm.

The first case holds items from the Civil War that donated by Don and Betty Manley. It includes a photograph of a relative who fought in the Civil War. He enlisted on Sept. 5, 1863, and was discharged at Camp Butler, near Springfield. There is also a cannonball donated by the Bert and Eileen Froehly family.

The display also includes items from the Spanish-American war, World War I, World War II and so on.

Donated books on the wars are on display, including one that contains a picture of Dr. Mark Greer in uniform when he was stationed with the French Army in World War I.

Many photographs are on display, including some that show the destruction of wars.

Other items of interest include an issued first aid kit and a Japanese canteen.

Most of the equipment artifacts (guns, helmets, clothing, etc.) were actually used in battle, either by Americans or the enemy. Along with weapons and helmets are maps, stained and well-handled, that trace the routes actually followed by the men who have donated them.

The only replica guns are a Tommy Gun, a 45mm and an M-1 rifle. Blythe contacted a company that provides weapon replicas for the movies. When they are doing a scene, the movie company does not want a real gun dropped into water, for example, Blythe said. So this company provides replicas. These replicas were actually used in the movie Saving Private Ryan.

The pins on all guns in the museum have been rendered harmless by the removal of the firing pins.

Among the many items is a book written and autographed by Adolph Hitler. Next to it is a World War II German helmet. The book was taken from a schoolhouse in Germany.

As our country was involved in wars and conflicts, patriotism was not lacking on the homefront, as women and men left behind stepped into new roles to work in defense plants, in sewing rooms like those Johnson, Stephens & Shinkle Defense Co.

Food, gas and shoes were rationed in order to provide for our troops. The Veterans Educational Museum contains some of the old rationing stamp books.

Editions of the service paper, Stars & Stripes, are also on display

There are photographs of U.S. Navy Ships, donated by the Melvin Goatley family. Melvin served on three ships during World War II. Bert Froehlys B-29 leather flight jacket, which he actually wore when he flew a B-29 over Europe, is also on display

One of the most touching exhibits is a portrait of a young man, appearing to be about 18 years old, in his Navy uniform, probably just out of basic training. The style and frame are from the World War II period, when salesmen visited homes with offers of painting portraits from photographs.

This young mans parents probably held this portrait very close to their hearts, in hopes of his safe return. The picture was found at a sale and brought to the museum. His name is unknown, but his face represents the innocent youths who went to World War II and gave their lives or came back, but with memories and experiences that changed their lives forever.

A CD recording of Memorial Day 2006, is also available at the museum. It contains WTRH Radio readings and interviews, including War Stories personal accounts from Bill Bradley, Linda Meyer Meador and Dr. Mark Ervin, and interviews with John Blythe, Meseke, Don Darnell, and Miles Filer.

The contents of the museum are too many to enumerate and the experience is too moving to communicate. It should be a personal experience.

There is no admission charge for the museum, but donations are appreciated. Although it is located in the Legion Home, it is operated on donations only.

The museum is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8-noon or by appointment. It will be open this Sunday afternoon.

For viewing on Monday, call John Blythe at 283-0832.

The American Legion is located on the corner of Edwards and 7th Street (321 South 7th).

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