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New exhibit highlights Shelby’s role in WWII

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Memorabilia on displays in welcome center, VFW

By Lisa King

Visitors to the Shelbyville Welcome Center on Main Street on Thursday probably felt like they had passed through a time warp.

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In addition to other historical exhibits already on display, the center, which houses the Shelbyville Historic District Commission’s office, featured a new exhibit that had just opened.

The World War II era certainly should bring back a lot of memories for many people who come to see this exhibit, said Sharon Hackworth, co-chair of the Shelby County Historical Society.

“So many local people have donated so many wonderful items for this exhibit,” she said, gesturing around at the 2-room display housed in the upstairs of the restored 1872 Italianate Presbyterian Manse Building.

The presentation featured mostly non-military items in the two-part exhibit, and war memorabilia is housed in the VFW Post 1179 just across the parking lot to the east.

At the welcome center’s exhibit, an old upright radio sat against one wall in a room done as a mock up of a 1942 kitchen, complete with a Frigidaire and a wooden ironing board in the corner. The floor was tiled in a black-and-white checkered pattern, very popular then, and a book of gasoline rationing stamps rested atop the radio.

“I guess you could say this old radio is my favorite thing here,” Hackworth said. “It was the main source of information back then, and I can just envision people clustered around it, and I can imagine the look on their faces as they listened to President Roosevelt’s speech the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Sherry Jelsma, president of the historical society, said that not many people had stopped in yet to see the exhibit, but she said she hopes that many will.

“It’s absolutely extraordinary, and the result of many people in the community who have loaned or given us so many wonderful relics of that age, which hold very special memories for them,” she said.

Some of the items on display include a painting of a Victory Garden in the “kitchen;” a collection of steel pennies, which were made in 1943 when copper was needed to make artillery shells; clothing made of feed-sack bags; scrapbooks of all kinds and even personal items sent home by soldiers to their wives, such as a hand-painted fan, sent by former Shelbyville Mayor Jesse Puckett to his wife, Ella, and a hand-made pillow sent by Harold Meeker, who was stationed on the USS Tuscaloosa.

The other room contains many examples of women’s fashions, an old bicycle, and a video display of the era.

The exhibit at the welcome center will run until next November, but the military exhibit at the VFW is a permanent display, Col. Roger Green said.

“It started out with members bringing in their memorabilia, and it evolved to this,” he said with unmistakable pride in his voice, as he gestured around at a roomful of World War II artifacts, such as huge 105mm artillery shells, an old footlocker and uniform, swords, flight jackets, a wall full of medals and old photos and a mannequin wearing the uniform of his late uncle, Boyd Green, who was in the Army Air Corps.

“We just got this in today,”  he said, smoothing a naval uniform brought in by Neal Hammond, as, nearby, Neal Hackworth checked out a couple of swords.

“This is a knife that the Japanese used to commit Hari-Kari,” Green said.

On the wall is a nurse’s uniform belonging to Lt. Mary Hornback of Shelbyville, who served in the Army’s 128th Surgical Hospital Unit and was featured in a documentary publication.

“This is really something to be proud of,” he said.