STEPHENS CITY, Va. — He was dapper in his khaki uniform, complete with tie and infantry hat. I thanked him for his service and we remarked about the day. “We’re learning a lot,” I said.
“I’m remembering a lot,” was his response.
He was among dozens of World War II veterans on hand at the American Military Heritage Museum in Stephens City, Va. Curator Phil Fravel says a number of soldiers from the Winchester-I unit of the National Guard came from the region, including the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Some didn’t make it back home, and those who lived to tell about it often didn’t — at least not until years later.
On a very pleasant June afternoon, veterans with caps emblazoned with their units and the missions they’d served in milled around the assembled military artifacts, including a Stuart tank. There were reenactors, too, young men giving life to old uniforms and explaining the artillery and supplies, the radio technology, and the harrowing missions.
But the day really belonged to the veterans. Some of them walked around aided by walkers, others in wheel chairs, usually with a family member or friend alongside. One could hear snippets of conversations among them as they chatted with each other or a curious visitor.
The veterans were encouraged to sign a wall to indicate their units and theaters of service. Inside a building on the property were displays of military uniforms, hammocks, mess kits and other artifacts from more than 70 years ago, including a metal-bound Bible and communications equipment including a switchboard and a cage for a carrier pigeon.
For curator Phil Fravel, it was important to open the museum up to as many veterans from World War II as possible. He provided name tags for each so they could easily be identified and so that visitors could thank them for their service and ask them about their experiences.
The museum is located off I-81 at exit 307 in Stephens City, Virginia.