By Mary Ellen Christy
I had a beautiful fall Friday morning several weeks ago. I set out on a glorious road trip with two of my closest friends, Connie Frydenlund and John Covell and their delightful dog, Allie. Our destination: the beautiful hills of North Carolina in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The purpose was to visit two sets of very dear friends, Connie‘s close friend from Smith College, Michel Johns Robertson, and our very close friends and former neighbors, Pam and Scott Marks. Michel and her husband have retired to Brevard, North Carolina and Pam and Scott to Hendersonville, North Carolina. This is a popular spot for retirement: the scenery is sensational, and the climate temperate.
Pam and Scott have built their dream home on a beautiful expansive plateau at the top of Davis Mountain. They are surrounded by their 32-acre parcel of land which has commanding views of both the mountains and valleys leading down to Hendersonville. We enjoyed our wonderful time together laughing, talking, cooking and walking around the property together, but the real unexpected and pleasant surprise of the trip was our decision to attend a special exhibit opening at the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas. Michel Robertson is Board Member, Treasurer and the driving force behind this most extraordinary project.
On the night of October 25, 2022, the museum hosted a premiere of a special video presentation entitled “Through their Eyes: The History of American at War from 1917 through the Global War on Terror”. Michel was the project director for the creation of this exceptional and very professional film. The handsome young man pictured in the poster beside which Michel is standing is her great uncle who was a Presbyterian minister and Rhodes scholar who gave his life only two weeks before the armistice was declared in 1918. Michel’s grandfather, James Loy Maloney, is also pictured in the WWI segment. He flew with Eddie Rickenbacher and went on to be Managing Editor of the Chicago Tribune. Michel’s father was a veteran of World War II and she is married to a retired naval officer who served as a SeaBee in Vietnam building roads and bridges. Michel was a history scholar at Smith College and her close family connections to major American conflicts led her to be involved in this excellent museum. The museum has also enabled her to develop close friends in the veteran community.
The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas is located in the beautiful mountain town of Brevard, North Carolina. The museum has galleries devoted to six American conflicts: WWI, WWII European Theater, WWII Pacific Theater, Korea, Vietnam and the War on Terror. The Museum’s purpose is to educate visitors on the history of the conflicts and to discuss the causative factors of war, the effect war has on those who fight and the lasting effect it has on society. The museum is very professionally done and contains uniforms, weapons and other artifacts of each period of conflict within the galleries. This recent video project funded by North Carolina Humanities, affiliated with the National Endowment of the Humanities and other local partners, resulted in the creation of six 5-minute films using artifacts in the galleries accompanied by a narrative which placed the relics in the history of the conflict and outlined some of the causes and results of the war. These films which will be independently viewed in each gallery were put together and shown in a local theater in Brevard as the launch of the project.
Our showing was attended by numerous veterans who were introduced to the audience, resulting in rounds of applause. There were, remarkably, seven WWII veterans present, along with several Korean War veterans and numerous veterans from Vietnam and the War on Terror.
After the video premiere, there was an outdoor reception featuring a star exhibit of the Museum – the 1943 jeep “LuLu”, three books of veteran’s stories from WWII, Korea and Vietnam that were written by members of the Museum Board, and music of the periods. The veterans present were seated at tables and proudly autographed their pictures in the books.
There were also several nurses who served in World War II in attendance. While they served in the army, they had no rank, nor did they receive any benefits. I recalled that my mother’s elder sister was an army nurse who served in a battlefront hospital in the Philippines and New Guinea and for a time was listed as missing. What a marvelous experience to meet these extraordinary people and hear about their wartime participation firsthand. I was also reminded that I have a first cousin nearly 20 years my senior who enlisted as a young man in the United States Marines, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor which is before I was even born. He remained a mystery to me throughout my childhood. I remember attending the first of what would become several weddings and failed marriages for this mysterious man who disappeared from our midst. Occasionally he would call my mother and they would have long conversations. She seemed so sad after each of these exchanges and one day he simply disappeared, never to be heard from again. My mother told me that he had gone to the west to become a cattleman not a rancher and certainly not a cattle broker but an actual cowboy who rode the range. As I sat in this powerful film, this cousin came to my mind although I’ve not thought of him for many, many years. I now understand that he undoubtedly suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder which afflicts so many of our veterans.
One of the many wonderful features of this unique museum is if you wish to make a donation to the museum, a brass plaque can be placed to honor those in your family either fallen or who have given service. I feel so strongly about the value of their work that I intend to do so for several members of my family. I want to pay tribute to my father, who served as a lieutenant commander on an aircraft carrier during World War II in the United States Navy, my aunt, who has no rank or title and will simply be listed as Ellen Louise Macomber – nurse in the Philippines, and my cousin, Eugene Brooks United States Marine Corps, who was wounded at Iwo Jima.
If you would like to join me in supporting this remarkable and important museum, you can contact them directly at:
The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas, 21 East Main St., Brevard, NC 28712.
The museum website is https://theveteransmuseum.org.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 3pm.
The phone contact is 828.884-2141.
This museum was founded to remember, honor, and educate. I look forward to my return to this wonderful Museum and this gorgeous region of our beautiful country. The Freedom we all enjoy is not free – it has been bought and paid for by others and will continue to be so.