Students get a lot out of trip to military museum

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2012

CHINA GROVE — As a classmate took her picture, Caitlin Hodge beamed with pride.
She was holding a framed photograph of her grandfather, James A. Hodge, which is among the hundreds displayed at the Price of Freedom Museum.
Hodge, a Vietnam veteran, was in his uniform. For years, Caitlin has seen the exact same picture in her grandfather’s house, where she goes every day after school.
“The smile on her face was worth a million dollars,” said Bobby Mault, one of the founders of the military museum, which is a field trip visit for every fifth-grader in Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
On this particular day, Caitlin was here with her Enochville Elementary School classmates and teachers Greta Compton and Jennifer Barbee.
Numerous stories have been done on this unique museum, which grew out of military uniforms and war memorabilia Mault once had displayed at his gas station.
Through persistence, faith in veterans and their families and a vision, Mault eventually persuaded Rowan-Salisbury Schools to lease him the shuttered 1936 Patterson School, which was being used for storage.
Mault, Frank Albright and their friends transformed the school cafeteria annex into a military museum crammed with everything imaginable related to the branches of services.
What seems to make it particularly special — and personal — are all the uniforms on display and photographs of many local veterans from, sad to say, too many wars.
Anna Bradshaw, a teacher’s assistant at Enochville Elementary, showed some of the children a military photograph of her husband, Perry.
She laughed when students assumed that every picture on the wall, including his, represented someone who was dead.
“He’s very much alive,” she said, explaining that Perry’s a school guidance counselor.
Everything in the museum has been loaned and/or donated, and the walls, display cases, tables and shelves combine to make quite an impression on the kids.
In the fifth grade, students study all the major military conflicts in U.S. history, beginning with the American Revolution and taking in, along the way, the Civil War, the world wars, Korea and Vietnam.
Barbee said the Price of Freedom Museum becomes one of the more meaningful field trips her students take, especially as they discuss World War II to modern day.
“They see things they’ll talk about for the next three weeks,” she adds.
The museum offers pictures and models of fighter planes, ships and tanks. It has guns, knives, bullets, bayonets, grenades, war posters and flags.
Few kids can resist the museum’s pull once they enter and are given a list of things to locate in a scavenger hunt.
Matthew Morgan stopped in front of a display case with an Army camera, tank view finder, compass, aircraft models and an old mess tray.
“This stuff is so cool,” Morgan said. “It shows how stuff has changed from way back then. Dude, I’m going to take a picture of the camera with my camera.”
The teachers handed out some cameras so their field trip could be documented and discussed back at school.
Military veterans on hand can’t help but give the students clues for the scavenger hunt.
“What are you looking for, son?” asked Vietnam-era paratrooper Albert Moon, who had been a master sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division. “I’ll give you a clue — it’s on that wall over there.”
Suzzette Flowers frequently helps at the museum. Her own husband, Ronnie, never was thanked when he returned from Vietnam, Suzzette said, and he never really talked much about his war experience.
Coming to the museum helped in bringing him out of that shell, she added.
Once a student walked up to her and said his grandfather had been in Vietnam. Suzzette told him he should go home and thank him for serving his country.
“They always enjoy this trip,” she said of the students. “They’re never ready to go home.”
In one of the old classrooms in the main school building, Terry Oglethorpe and Neil Morrow meet with the students for about 30 minutes and give a detailed account of Morrow’s stint as an Army truck driver in World War II — from his being drafted in 1942 through his participation in the Battle of the Bulge.
By the time it’s over, they have a real appreciation of the sacrifices soldiers such as the 90-year-old Morrow had to make for the country’s freedom.
Morrow’s story reached a climax Tuesday when he was one of eight men, three transport trucks and a Jeep trying to deliver 10,000 frozen turkeys to the front-line troops for Christmas.
The Germans had other plans and, during the Battle of the Bulge, drove back the Allied forces.
The truck crews became caught in 4 feet of snow as a powerful German counterattack advanced toward them. They faced certain death, but nature proved to be their salvation.
“The only thing that stopped the Germans was the weather,” Morrow said.
Outside the museum, Korean War veteran Bill Freeland answered questions about a 21/2-ton, M-35A truck — a model used by the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
The truck was on loan from Jim Johnson Jr.
Oglethorpe, an Air Force veteran, showed the kids some of the detailed models he has built to demonstrate equipment and infrastructure used during World War II.
Mault took a visitor behind the cafeteria annex to show the red-white-and-blue backdrop now painted on back of the building.
This area, which includes a cement slab and new flagpole, will serve as a stage of sorts. The old school grounds spread far beyond it and can hold countless people, military vehicles and vendors when needed for special events.
The museum holds a couple daylong gatherings each year.
Mault still hopes to transfer everything in the annex into the old school building, as manpower and donations allow.
Each branch of the service eventually will have its own room.
Part of the school also will be devoted to artifacts showing how people lived back home during wartime and the sacrifices households had to make.
Mault still works 80 hours a week at his service station, but he and others open the museum to the public from 3-5 p.m. every Sunday. There is never an admission charge.
Each week, a fifth-grader from Landis, Curtis Roach, helps out at the museum. Mault said the youngster knows as much about the museum as he does.
It’s encouraging. The museum seems to make a real connection with kids — something real and not a “Call of Duty” video game.
Mault likes to share some of the letters students have written to the museum over the years.
Delaney Nielsen wrote that every time she sees a soldier now, she tells them, “Thank you,” and her visit “made me want to teach children about the world and appreciate what we have and not be greedy.”
In 2009, Jeremy Babela probably said it best:
“I thought it was going to be a crummy field trip, but it wasn’t.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or