WWII exhibit going up at Rowan Museum
By Steve Huffman
Luther Sowers was describing a German soldier’s World War II uniform, the jacket and medals that adorn it displayed at Rowan Museum.
Sowers told what the soldier who wore the uniform might have done to earn the medals, spoke about the amount of action the young man likely saw.
Then someone asked what the words on the uniform’s belt buckle meant. “Gott Mit Uns,” the buckle read.
“It means, ‘God with us,’ ” Sowers said earlier this week.
Then he paused to chuckle.
“Everyone wants God on their side,” Sowers said. “Even Nazi Germany.”
Rowan Museum’s newest exhibit, a display of World War II artifacts titled, “V for Victory: Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue,” debuts from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. The exhibit will run from September through mid-January.
Many of the artifacts on display belong to the museum while more are on loan from private collections. A large number belonged to Rowan County soldiers who served during World War II.
Sunday’s opening will be special. A handful of World War II interpreters ó some who served in the military during the early 1940s ó will be speaking. A special reception will honor veterans, guests and sponsors.
There’s a possibility that an outdoor display featuring a World War II-era Jeep will be included as part of Sunday’s debut, though that hadn’t been finalized as of Wednesday.
Terry Holt is a retired Rowan County history teacher and chairman of the board of directors of the museum’s exhibit committee. He put in perspective how special many of the artifacts on display are.
Holt said that when residents with loved ones who’d served in World War II loaned an artifact to the museum, they seldom dropped it off and turned immediately to leave.
“They shared a lot of stories with us,” Holt said. “They basically told us, ‘This is not just a uniform. This is a person.’ ”
There are some unique artifacts on display as part of the exhibit.
In addition to uniforms of American soldiers, there is also a corner where uniforms of Axis soldiers ó from Germany, Italy and Japan ó are displayed. A Nazi political banner hangs in the exhibit room.
Close your eyes and it’s easy to imagine the sound of Nazi soldiers goose-stepping down the street outside.
An old radio is situated on a table beside a fireplace, simulating President Roosevelt’s famed fireside chats. A picture of FDR hangs just above the fireplace.
Also displayed will be newspaper clippings and photographs from World War II. Photos of a variety of Rowan County soldiers who served in the Second World War are framed.
Among the soldiers whose photographs are on display is Holt’s step-father, Walter Lyman, who was wounded during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. Holt said his stepfather was hit around his belly button.
“It just about ripped him in half,” Holt said of the wound.
The re-creation of a Pacific theater beach scene is part of the museum’s display, a mannequin decked out in a Marine uniform and standing alongside a .30-caliber water-cooled Browning machine gun featured.
There are also on display photographs that bring home how close the war came to Rowan and surrounding counties. One of those pictures is of a bridge in Cabarrus County that collapsed when a tank crossed it during training exercises. Another photograph is of a machine gun nest perched atop York Hill, where Interstate 85 today crosses the Yadkin River.
Newspaper clippings of the era that will be displayed include headlines such as: “Salisbury bombed by planes from Fort Bragg” (rest easy, it was a training exercise where flour “bombs” were sometimes used, though they weren’t even dropped in this particular case).
“I’m glad they didn’t drop sacks of flour,” Sowers observed. “Can you imagine getting whacked by a sack of flour?”
Another newspaper report of the era details two truckloads of Army soldiers who rolled into Spencer during the early days of the war to protect against possible sabotage at Spencer Shops.
Sowers pointed to a few of the military items that will be displayed to the public beginning Sunday. They include a field telephone that weighed 100 pounds and a tripod for a machine gun that weighed 60 pounds.
“And some poor guy had to run all over Europe lugging that thing,” Sowers said, motioning toward the tripod.
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The exhibit at Rowan Museum is sponsored by Susan and Ed Norvell, the H.B. Jarrett American Legion Post #342, Margaret and George Kluttz, Susan and Tom Waller and VFW Post #3006.
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. It is located at 202 N. Main St., Salisbury. For more information, call the museum at 704-633-5946.