- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - The house at 1557 Harper Road may look like any other along the busy street, but inside is a museum that any military buff or curious person would enjoy.

The house and the trailer behind it showcase this nation’s military conquests and defeats from the Revolutionary War to the modern-day War on Terrorism.

“We want to preserve and honor the history of our veterans,” Cindy Parker, curator of the Raleigh County Veterans Museum, said of its mission.

The two buildings house more than 30,000 articles, including military uniforms, flags, pictures, coins, and firearms.

There is also a piece of the Berlin Wall, perhaps the most famous symbol of the Cold War. There is also an Iraqi Republican Guard uniform.

But the most chilling article of war on display in the museum is the cell door from the Bunker Block at Dachau, the first building used as a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

The door is splintered and is in poor shape now, but still a powerful reminder of the evils of the world. The display also contains a number of unpublished photographs of the Holocaust, some not easy to look out. Lifeless, emaciated bodies lying naked in a pile. Another of near-dead Jews looking into a camera, their eyes devoid of emotions, a blasé attitude toward death.

The biggest attraction, said Parker, is a scale model of the USS West Virginia, which sank when six Japanese torpedoes struck the port side during the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

When the attack was over, 106 men died on the “Wee Vee,” according to various histories.

The model has a prominent place in the museum, in front of four large windows overlooking Harper Road. Parker explained the model was made by former museum director Jim Toler out of everyday household items, including toys and soup cans.

From time to time, the surviving crew of the USS West Virginia gather at the museum to discuss life and recall their military days. But it never fails that the survivors, now only a few, gather around the model to remember their brothers.

“They were very proud of that ship,” said Parker. On one wall overlooking the ship are young men, dressed sharply in military uniforms, smiling and ready to patrol the Pacific Ocean.

Parker explained the Raleigh County Veterans Museum is looking to open a permanent exhibition on the role women played in the nation’s military history soon and is currently looking for women’s military items and relics.

For space reasons, the museum now accepts only donations. Parker explained it cannot accept items on loan. “We just don’t have the room,” she said.

The Raleigh County Veterans Museum, which opened for the season Sunday, has thousands of visitors each season, which ends the second week of November. Parker said visitors come from all over the country to look and learn. During a special tour last week, 24 veterans, mainly from the Vietnam era, toured the museum. Parkers said they traveled from Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Michigan and more.

“They were really impressed with our collection,” she said.

Parker said she would like to see more schools tour the collection. She said the county’s military history is glossed over in the schools, but students should know the unvarnished truth that war is harsh.

Another change this season at the museum is fundraising efforts. In the past, collecting funds to offset the cost of operations was limited to a few weeks toward the close of the season.

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Information from: The Register-Herald, https://www.register-herald.com

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