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Brookhaven museum battles to preserve history

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, less than 10 percent of the total U.S. adult population has served in the military. That means there’s a lot of folks out there who may feel disconnected from the upcoming Veterans Day celebrations simply because they don’t have a personal tie to a veteran.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Brookhaven’s Military Memorial Museum stands ready to help visitors get acquainted with area veterans, both past and present. The museum does this by introducing veterans through their stories, the kind that unfold in yellowed newspaper clippings and memorabilia hanging on the wall.

And from the ceiling.

Just steps away from the main entrance, a model radio-controlled B-25 suspends mid-air. It’s a replica of those the Doolittle Raiders used to bomb Tokyo during World War II. Nearby, flags representing different branches of service drape the center of the main room. They’re anchored by glass cases filled with patina-ed medals and ammunition. 

How the museum came to be is a story all its own, but the idea of creating a showcase for war relics hidden away in local attics materialized in 2003. Since then, an all-volunteer crew has kept the doors open at the downtown location, enabling visitors to see purple hearts and silver stars, a Japanese machine gun, ration books and volcanic ash.

Volcanic ash?

Yes. The late Jack Lucas donated a bag of volcanic ash after he made a return trip to Iwo Jima. Lucas was barely 17 when he was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor for his valiant actions during World War II. Witnesses say the Marine from Purvis willingly covered two live grenades with his own body, sparing his comrades from injury. 

Museum organizers think it’s important for us to know about Jack Lucas and other military heroes. They see the exhibits, displays and library as a way of educating us, bringing some perspective to holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. 

But a visit to the museum can be overwhelming. So much to learn. So much to examine. So much to take in. I asked mainstay volunteer Roffie Burt, a Vietnam veteran who wore both Air Force and Army uniforms during his military career, for some help. What are the top 10 “don’t-miss” items to view at the museum? Here are his picks:

1. World War I gun cart

2. Miniature military cemetery

3. Wood-tip ammo clip used by Japan during WWII after their supply of lead was cut off

4. Aircraft Carrier Princeton model

5. World War II special edition of The Daily Leader

6. Photograph of the Court House Memorial

7. Glass case of MIA Danny Entrican memorabilia

8. A captured Japanese flag

9. Military painting depicting an open Bible and soldier saluting in the foreground

10. Article about Brookhaven’s German POW camp

To see these exhibits in person, visit the Military Memorial Museum in Brookhaven’s historic depot at 125 S. Whitworth Avenue. It’s open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., or by appointment.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.