We have a large collection of military artifacts at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum that you will find very interesting as you browse through the memorabilia of area veterans at this time of year when we uplift those who have served our country.
We have exhibits representing the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Persian Gulf War and a large exhibit of the USS Ware.
With Veterans Day drawing nearer, many people are visiting our collection and remembering those citizens who served our country. Please take the time to thank someone who has served.
The museum fills three levels with more than 10,000 artifacts that members can visit unlimited times for free. Non-members pay a $5 fee for each visit.
Sunday will mark the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I — a war that was known as “The Great War.” It was a really horrible war when, for the first time, our soldiers were faced with poisonous gases. They traveled overseas in converted livestock boats. They crossed obstacles of barbed wire and lived in trenches, gun ready, equipped with a gas mask. Our cavalry and medical units went and the losses were high, not only from battlefield causalities, but also from the 1918 flu epidemic.
At the time, our country was optimistic that it would be the last war we would need to get involved in. It was a power struggle in Europe that started the war in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria — heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. The United States didn’t get involved until 1917 after three of our ships were sunk by Germany, while we remained neutral. We declared war on Germany and instituted the draft.
In McMinn County, the draft was not necessary because the needed quota of men quickly totaled what was required from the county. Residents lined up to volunteer to serve.
The war triggered a response of support across the county with farmers producing more food that was needed by the troops. The food was canned and sent via the local American Red Cross chapter. Women got together and knitted sweaters, mufflers and organized other needs like linens and surgical bandages that were shipped to the soldiers.
McMinn County Historian Bill Akins penned a detailed account of the outpouring of support from McMinn County residents in his book, “Over Here and After: McMinn County, Tennessee, During World War I and the Twenties.”
In a Daily Post-Athenian news article published in 1917, the Browning Circle dedicated a service flag that had 13 stars which represented “a husband and son of members and son of three esteemed former members and two grandsons of an honored honorary member.”
The flag and news article are hanging near the entrance level of the museum with the list of those who served who were related to the Browning Circle members.
You will notice a gold star among them. This star belongs to 1st Lt. Josephus Benjamin Wilson. He died on Oct. 18, 1918, in battle. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with the 15th Machine Gun Battalion, 5th Division, A.E.F., near Cunel, France. His picture along with a brief history detailing his heroic action is posted near the Browning Circle Service Flag. Many others who served also received awards, some of which we have included in our exhibits through family donations.
A mannequin on the top level of the museum displays the uniform of Lt. Willis Albert Shadow in stocking feet. You will find his boots complete with spurs in the display case, along with his aviator helmet and other gear he used. You can call him a pioneer in the aviator field, as it was new to our military and introduced by France which had advanced their technology and had built fighter planes already in use. The spurs on the boots that were customarily used in the cavalry were necessary to lock legs in a ready position for ejection. However, most pilots flew without a parachute, making the life expectancy of an aviator during World War I only three weeks. They wore a leather helmet with goggles for protection in the open cockpit of the propelled biplane.
Shadow (born 1894, died 1964) was the son of Joseph Algea Shadow and Sophia Rosina Zimmerman. He married Mary Merrill Ermilich on May 21, 1923, and they had four children. One of them was Muriel Elaine Shadow Mayfield (born 1928, died 2007), the founder of our museum.