WWII memorabilia highlight this week’s tour of the county’s Museum
As promised, this week we’ll continue in the War Room of the Drew County Museum with an examination of the remaining articles along the west wall. Most of the space along this west wall is taken up by large glass display cases that feature WWII memorabilia.
Hanging above the case on the wall are four World War II uniforms. From right to left, the first is a WWII Army uniform belonging to a corporal from the First Cavalry Remount unit. The soldier spent some time in Burma.
The next uniform is a WWII Air Force uniform. Beside it hangs a uniform whose owner served in the 5th Army in Europe. The hat is included with the ensemble.
The fourth is a Navy Seabees uniform from WWII. The name “Seabees” was taken from the first letters of the unit’s official name, Construction Battalion. Hence they were known as “C. B. s”, or “Seabees”. They were the group in charge of building airfields, roads, housing, etc., in areas too close to combat areas for civilian labor. They worked mainly in the Pacific islands and the Mediterranean.
Beneath the uniform on top of the glass case is a Seabees banner from the U.S. Navy Construction Training Center at Camp Peary, Va. I remember a film, The Fighting Seabees; it was one of the few in which John Wayne died – but we won the war!
The glass case is in large part a tribute to Robert Fee Hyatt, of Monticello. Mr. Hyatt graduated from West Point military academy in 1912, fought in WWI and WWII in Europe and gradually attained the rank of general in the Army. He died in 1957 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
On top of the glass case is a picture of General Hyatt along with two “furlough” books from West Point for the years 1912 and 1913. Furlough books in this instance were similar to school annuals of today. These are very interesting.
Located with the furlough books are two decorated swords in scabbards. One is a Knights Templar sword. The Knights Templar is an organization dating back to the Crusades and freemasonry in European history. This sword, however, is more modern and is a ceremonial sword. It is highly decorated and engraved with an ivory scrimshaw handle.
The other sword is in a jeweled-like scabbard with an ivory handle. It may be some sort of fraternal sword. It, too, is ceremonial and decorative. Both are very beautiful.
To the left of the swords is a small mannequin of a lady dressed in a Red Cross uniform. It is white accented by a Red Cross pin. We also have a pair of shoes and a purse that were issued to a WAC during WWII. A WAC was a member of the Women’s Army Corps. We had at least one former WAC in Monticello. There is also a cap belonging to a late member of the VFW and the American Legion.
On the other side of the swords is a Bible written in German. It came from the German POW Camp near Ruston, La., and has a name penciled in the front.
A folded flag is next. This one flew over the Capitol in Washington on December 5, 1986, at the request of former Senator David Pryor. It is now in our possession.
The last item on top of the case is a German flag captured in the town of Trier, Germany, by a platoon sergeant in the 76th Infantry, 3rd Army. The American troops had just broken through the Siegfried Line and he found some German officers trying to hide it. He carried it two months in Europe before he came home, bringing it with him as a souvenir. Later he gave it to the museum to be displayed.
In the bottom of the case are several trophies won by General Robert Fee Hyatt while a student at West Point. He won them in boxing, wrestling and polo. Polo? Not bad for a Monticello boy!
Sharing the space with the trophies are two naval uniforms. The first uniform is a naval aviator’s uniform from WWII. These were only used during WWII so this is a rare and unusual item. The other is a naval officer’s dress blue uniform. Both are in great condition and were donated by a gentleman who visited Monticello and the museum and chose us as a home for his memorabilia. His name was Emmons Blake. I’d be interested to know if he has any relatives still in the area.
The smaller shelf inside the case holds a large collection of military decorations earned by General Hyatt during his military career. There are also a couple of swords from his collection and an Army “mess kit”. This was a combination plate, fork, spoon, etc. used for eating meals while in the field. This large case is a real treasure “box”.
In my last article I mentioned “cutlery”. I was referring to the swords in the exhibit mentioned herein. When I think of these weapons, I always remember longtime museum supporter and board member, the late Paul Curry, and his father, Dr. C.C. Curry. Dr. Curry taught several history courses at UAM. He made history sound like fun to me and many other students. I’ll always have a mental picture of Dr. Curry discussing the French Revolution and the Musketeers. He’d bow and wave his imaginary plumed hat and advance with his imaginary sword on the evildoers. He could weave a story! I believe that if more history teachers portrayed history as interesting and fun, rather than dull and “dated”, we would have more history aficionados in our society!
Next week! More from the Drew County Museum War Room!