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Gresham Library
Offers War Exhibit

Vietnam soldiers
Vietnam soldiers

At this time of year many people pause on special days like May 28 and July 4 to honor those who served America in war. This year May 28-July 4 is Memorial Month at Sam Houston State University.

Thanks to the Huntsville's H.E.A.R.T.S. (Helping Americans Remember Through Service) Museum and Mrs. Charlotte Oleinik, SHSU students and faculty will have an opportunity the next several weeks to view a piece of American history at the Gresham Library.

Cheryl Patton, who works in the library and helped organize the different displays, said Oleinik wanted young people to learn about those who died to give Americans the rights they have today.

"She wanted to get some things together to show the students because they, of course, have no memory of those things," Patton said.

The exhibit, which Patton said will be on display until the fourth of July, contains artifacts from several past wars including the Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam as well as military literature provided by the library.

"What we decided to do was pull a lot of things together from two museums in town and the books that we have; we have an extensive collection of military history," said Ann Holder, interim director. "I think there are a number of interesting things in these cases."

The exhibit is on the main floor of the library, straight ahead after entering through the front doors. To the left is a large upright case with the title, "Remembering Memorial Day: 1866-2001." An excerpt from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is displayed to symbolize the true meaning of Memorial Day.

It states, "... from these honored dead we take increased devotion; to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we were highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."

The case also includes pictures of SHSU alums and Walker County residents who were killed in action, notably Major Milton Henry Steffen and Cpl. George Melvin White.

Steffen, who served as editor-in-chief of the Sam Houston State newspaper The Houstonian in 1938, was killed in World War II in January 1944 while in Italy. He came to Sam Houston in 1936 to play football for the Bearkats. Steffen, who was a member of the National Guard, Co. F. 143rd Infantry, 36th Division, received the Purple Heart twice, the Silver Star twice, and Legion of Merit for his exceptional service.

White was the first casualty of World War II from Walker County. White, who was buried by his parents in Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville, was killed in action at Salerno, Italy on Sept. 23, 1943.

David Isbell and Jerry Roe are two others that are pictured. Both were killed in Vietnam.

The case also contains a Colt revolver that was provided by the Sam Houston Memorial Museum as well as the poem "In Flanders Fields." The poem is one of the most memorable war poems ever written.

Major McCrae, a surgeon in Belgium during World War I, wrote the poem on May 3, 1915 as he sat on the back of an ambulance overlooking a cemetery that was the site of a large amount of poppies -- wild flowers that can only grow in uprooted land. As a result of the poem, poppies were chosen to symbolize Memorial Day and a display of such flowers lie on top of the case.

McGhee's uniform
The army uniform of a much decorated nurse, Florence McGhee, who served in five major battles

Just to the right of the case is a World War II uniform of a much decorated Army nurse, Florence Allen (now Florence McGhee), who served in five major battles. McGhee, who currently lives in Bryan, served at Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Chicasha, OK, Arizona, Great Britain, France, Germany and Austria.

Two central cases on the main floor have displays regarding World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Among Holder's favorite artifacts is a deck of playing cards, Spotter playing cards, that were manufactured during World War II to assist American soldiers in learning the characteristics of friendly and enemy aircraft, such as a German Medium Bomber or a German Fighter.

"It's interesting because then they could play cards and learn how to identify planes at the same time," Holder said.

Also on display are several post cards sent to people back home from World War II soldiers, books on American wars, war artifacts such as spoons and forks, and helmets used in fighting.

One such helmet was used in Vietnam. In the center of the helmet, the soldier drew a cross with "God protect me" written above it. The date on the helmet said July 10, 1967-July 5, 1969.

A 1943 Alcalde, the former yearbook of SHSU, is opened to pictures of three Sam Houston students killed in World War II. Two of the men, Harley Woshout and Ney Clifton Jones, were members of SHSU's Esquire Club. The third was Pete Seale, Jr., a member of the Texas Kappa Chapter of Pi Kappa Delta and the Huffor Debate Club.

Holder said people have been impressed with the exhibit so far and many people have stopped by.

"We've had a number of people from the community come in and take a look," she said.

Among those who have viewed the exhibit are Capt. Joseph Ritter and Sgt. Fernando de los Reyes of the U.S. Army, who came to the library May 24. Ritter is a former employee of the Gresham Library.

Those who wish to view past SHSU yearbooks that date back to World War II can look at the books at the Reference Desk on the main floor in the library.

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Brandon Autrey
May 31, 2001
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