WWII tank.JPG
Photo by Jeff Cole

ELDRED, Pa. — Many small towns fancy an opportunity to showcase what makes their communities so special. The Town of Eldred, Pa. is no exception.

Located on Main St. in Eldred is an 18,000 square-foot edifice that houses numerous items of historical memorabilia, with each piece paying homage to an event that shaped the futures of countless lives — World War II.

According to Steve Appleby, curator for The Eldred World War II Museum, the museum was founded in 1996 to honor the mostly-female workers of a local munitions plant that had been built to produce three-inch trench mortars, two-inch smoke rounds and brass bomb fuses for British troops. Once America became involved in the war, the plant was expanded and the production of thermite grenades and incendiary bombs, which were used to bomb Japan, began.

“(The plant) produced about eight million pieces of ordinance during the war,” said Mr. Appleby. “Only about half of (the supply) made it overseas because a lot of that was sunk by German submarines, bombers and such.”

One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is Mitchell Paige Hall, which pays tribute to Col. Mitchell Paige, a former Marine from Pittsburgh, Pa. According to Mr. Appleby, Col. Paige and 33 other marines held off about 5,000 Japanese soldiers at the Battle of Guadalcanal. Col. Paige received the Medal of Honor for his heroics.

“In his collection, we have a Japanese pistol that hit him on the helmet twice during the battle,” said Mr. Appleby. “He donated his entire collection, including his Medal of Honor.”

The museum also includes a library that contains original newspaper clippings from the war, paintings, posters, 10,000 books and 4,000 veterans statements, each one offering a one-of-a-kind perspective on the war. Mr. Appleby adds that since around 1,000 World War II veterans die every day, collecting their stories and making them available to the public is very significant.

“We’re looking at making it a lending library because, right now, it’s just a research library,” he said.

The museum also contains a recreated command center and observation post, an actual periscope from a submarine, a Holocaust exhibit, hundreds of military uniforms and a wide-range of weapons, including the world’s first assault rifle and a German Luger pistol. According to Mr. Appleby, donations to the museum have come from all around the country, including Idaho and Florida. Col. Konstantin Sharov, a World War II veteran and head of the Veterans Affairs in Moscow, Russia, has also been a constant contributor to the museum since his first visit.

“It’s amazing what people bring in,” Mr. Appleby said. “It’s just mind-boggling to us.”

Jay Tennies, director of the museum, added that the museum will accept donations but does not have the budget to purchase any items.

“The stories we tell are the things people want to share with other people,” he said.

What sets the Eldred World War II museum apart from other museums is its mission — to tell the personal side of the war and to educate children, Mr. Appleby said.

“It’s very important that people understand these were human beings who had aspirations and hopes,” he said.

Previously a free attraction, the museum began charging a $5 admission a couple of years ago to help pay for electricity bills. The museum is open year-round and usually attracts around 8,000 visitors, including many World War II veterans. According to Mr. Tennies, these veterans express quite a variety of behaviors upon entering the museum, from becoming teary-eyed to laughing and sharing stories.

“It’s usually a very emotional thing,” he said. “Oftentimes, (the veterans) are very much surprised that anyone cares about this stuff.”

For more information or to plan a trip to the museum, visit http://www.eldredwwiimuseum.org.

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