WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center has collected two rooms of materials related to the military service of local veterans, from the Civil War to the present, and volunteers are taking steps to further chronicle their experiences.
The museum board is collecting the stories of veterans not only from Brooke County but also Hancock and Ohio counties for a series of books it hopes to produce.
Ruby Greathouse, board member and volunteer curator for the museum, said the book is inspired by the "Marshall County Patriots and Heroes" series produced by Gary Rider, an author and former teacher, and his wife, Patty.
In its fourth volume, the series has compiled the stories of hundreds of Marshall County veterans.
The group is inviting veterans who served in all eras, at war and in peacetime, to submit their stories through applications available through local veterans organizations, the Brooke County Courthouse and libraries in each county.
They also may be obtained by calling (304) 312-5316, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or writing to: Military Heroes Project, 704 Charles St., Wellsburg, WV 26070. The deadline is Sept. 1 for stories to be included in the first volume, but any received after that will be used in a future volume, said Greathouse.
Greathouse said there are more than 2,600 living veterans in Brooke County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are almost 6,000 in Hancock County, said Kathy Hawken, a member of the Brooke-Hancock Family Resource Network's military and veterans committee who is assisting the museum board.
The museum board hopes to release the first book around Memorial Day, but is continuing to seek donations for its cost. Those interested in making a donation may use the contact information above and will be acknowledged in the book.
"We've gotten a few memorial donations so far," said Vickey Gallagher, museum board president, noting donors may make contributions in memory or honor of a veteran.
Gallagher and others behind the project said information is sought from veterans of all ages, including those currently serving, but time is essential for the area's oldest veterans.
Greathouse noted hundreds of World War II veterans are dying each day, and the effort will preserve their personal recollections for future generations.
"We are losing too many, too fast, to let any veteran's information go," she said.
"Honoring their memories is what we're trying to do," said Gallagher.
She added the stories need not be about combat, as the group would like to hear about the day-to-day experience of serving in the military and how that affected veterans' civilian lives afterward.
Gallagher said family members of veterans can help by gathering information from their loved ones. She said she spoke to her father about his military experience several weeks before he died.
Gallagher noted the group also has plans to conduct videotaped interviews with veterans if they are interested. She said the interviews may be compiled in a video used by the museum, but such plans are very tentative.
Greathouse said the Mary H. Weir Public Library has agreed to lend its video equipment for the endeavor and Gary Kappel, a former Bethany College history professor, has agreed to assist with the book and may recruit students from the college.
Plans also call for the book to include photos of the many veterans memorials found in the three counties.
Members of the Ex-Prisoners of War Barbed Wire Chapter, a group that includes veterans from areas of the Ohio Valley, were encouraged to take part during a recent visit to the museum.
Paul "Bud" Billiard of Wellsburg, who accompanied them, applauded the project. He agreed it's important for the group to move forward quickly in light of the advancing age of World War II veterans.
Billiard added, "It's a huge project, and they're very wise in segmenting it (into volumes)."
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