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Tuesday, 04 February 2014 11:46

Preserving memories on the homefront

Written by  Dennis Hines
William Sigmund of Elkhorn William Sigmund of Elkhorn File photo

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY — Bill Sigmund’s model airplanes are replicas of the real thing — many of them the aircraft flown by pilots in World War II.

Now the Elkhorn man’s model planes will be displayed among the real artifacts of area residents, who like him, have served in the U.S. military.

The new military memorabilia exhibit is housed in the Veterans Room of Heritage Hall, 103 E. Rockwell St. in Elkhorn. The exhibit is a collaborative effort between the Walworth County Council of the American Legion and Walworth County Historical Society.

Sigmund, a Korean War veteran and a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he’s happy to support the exhibit.

“I think we need something like this. It’s something that honors veterans,” Sigmund said. “It’s something we’ve needed for many years.”

The American Legion has been collecting items for the exhibit since last fall. Military uniforms, artwork from various wars, maps, flags, weapons, photographs and medals are among the featured items.

“We have a number of medals and a couple of pieces of ‘tramp art,’” said Bob Webster, financial officer of the Walworth County Council of the American Legion. “In the military during World War II, the soldiers would have time to kill, so they would take artillery shells and craft them into souvenir pieces like ashtrays.

“We also have a Vietnamese helmet and some M-1 rifles from World War II. Someone from Elkhorn was in the Air Force during World War II and he took aerial photos of bombing sites, and you can see explosions and debris. One of the younger military guys had a collection of challenge coins, so he donated about 47 challenge coins. So, we’ve got a pretty good cross-section started.”

Dan Richardson, vice president of the Walworth County Historical Society, said many residents have donated items during the past few months.

“We get new items in every week,” Richardson said. “I don’t think a week goes by where we don’t get a flag, rifle or uniform.”

Besides the military items, a Macy’s department store in Milwaukee donated glass display cases for the exhibit.

“They’re beautiful cases. They would’ve cost thousands of dollars if we had to buy them,” Webster said. “We decided to spread the items out in the display cases.”

Establishing a local military exhibit has been a longtime goal of Webster’s.

“Personally, I’ve been agonizing over this for about 10 years, because these items get lost,” Webster said. “My wife and I dabble in antiques and we’ve seen these items at yard sales or even thrown away.

“People just don’t know what to do with grandpa’s flag. People find these items in the attic, and they don’t know what to do with them or they’re not interested, so they go in a garage sale or out on the curb.”

Webster said when looking for a place to house the exhibit, County Administrator Dave Bretl advised the historical society to allow the American Legion to use Heritage Hall to display the military items.

“It’s been a good relationship with the veterans and the historical society in putting this together,” Richardson said. “It’s something that we can share with the community forever.”

The exhibit could be expanded in the future if enough items are collected, Webster said.

“There’s still plenty of room left, but there may come a time when we have too many items,” Webster said. “The historical society told us if we need to expand, they would be willing to accommodate us with additional space.”

Currently there are no set hours for the exhibit, but residents can contact the historical society at (262) 723-7848 to schedule an appointment.

“The Webster House is closed for the winter, but we’re using Heritage Hall for monthly programs and meetings,” Richardson said. “If someone is truly interested, they can call the historical society to view the exhibit. The best days would either be Wednesday or Thursday.”

Webster said even though he is pleased with the response the exhibit has received, he feels more support is needed.

“I should be pleased, and I am, but I would be more pleased if more items would be donated,” Webster said.

People who might want to donate items should contact the historical society or Webster at  (262) 275-6587.

“I can come and pick them up or arrange to get them picked up,” Webster said. “We’ve got it covered if people want to donate items.”



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