- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - L.V. Rhodes can’t help but let his mind wander as he thumbs through albums filled with photos of veterans.

The hundreds of pictures are part of his ever-growing stash of World War II memorabilia. Letters, signatures, medals and photograph after photograph make up the collection he brings out of his house to share several times each year.

“These guys did so much,” Rhodes said of the many military men whose personal keepsakes he holds dear. “Well, really all the guys wearing uniforms did.”

On Veteran’s Day, the Fourth of July and Memorial Day, Rhodes packs up several tables worth of his collectibles and displays them at Hope Baptist Church in Alexandria, where he and his wife have attended church for nearly 40 years.

The congregation includes several veterans who enjoy the chance to see what Rhodes brings out.

“I do this basically for the veterans,” said Rhodes, who picks up items “here and there” at flea markets.

Rhodes feels he owes it to veterans like his dad, who died several years ago of Alzheimer’s disease, to preserve their memories.

“I don’t know why people would sell this stuff that belonged to their mommy or daddy,” Rhodes said, picking up a letter from a soldier writing home to his wife during World War II. “My dad was in the navy during World War II. The last thing I’d do is sell anything that belonged to him.”

Rhodes’ deep admiration and respect of veterans stems not only from watching his dad’s example, but also from growing up in Leesville, near the Fort Polk military base.

“When I was 18, Vietnam was real,” Rhodes said, remembering how many soldiers from Fort Polk went there. Rhodes was required to register for the draft, too, but was never called.

For Rhodes, his collection is also a way to learn more about history. His brother actually started collecting war memorabilia first and piqued his interest.

“You kind of get in and you want to find out more,” Rhodes said.

After he started sharing his memorabilia during patriotic holidays, other veterans at Hope Baptist would come up and want to tell him about their stories, too.

“There’s history all around us,” Rhodes said. “It’s just finding it.”

Rhodes even found out one of his friends in the congregation was decorated with a Purple Medal.

“I was like, you never told me?” Rhodes recalled asking him.

Over the years, Rhodes also started tracking down signatures for the photos he has collected. Some belong to members of his church. For others, he had to write letters to veterans around the country.

He also printed out veterans’ citations for awards like the Purple Heart or Silver Star and put together a scrapbook of them with their photos and signatures.

Rhodes said his favorite piece of war memorabilia is a picture of his dad, whose name - the initials L.V. - he was given.

Other pieces that have a special place in his heart include local photos taken long ago, like one of some soldiers serving at Fort Polk when it was called “Camp Polk.”

Rhodes said he has been known to replace some of the family photos decorating his house with those of veterans. That is the only time his wife has had to step in and say something about the collection he plans to keep growing.

“They’ll say, ‘Daddy’s putting picture of people on the wall we don’t even know again,’” Rhodes admitted.

Rhodes wants to pass on his memorabilia to his children and grandchildren. But he wonders if, as time passes, other families will place as much value on the World War II leftovers as he does.

“Hopefully, they’ll have the appreciation I have for it,” Rhodes said. “It’s one of those things, you never know what’s gonna happen.”

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Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, https://www.thetowntalk.com

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