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Price of Freedom

CHINA GROVE — I can never say enough about the Price of Freedom Museum.

But I’m glad U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has said something about the museum that is now included in the permanent record of Congress.

We can thank Rodney Cress’ diligence for that.

Let me sidetrack first and remind you how the museum came about.

Back in the 1970s, Bobby Mault began devoting space in his Texaco gas station to military uniforms and artifacts belonging to family, friends and customers.

He just wanted to honor veterans, including his brothers, and remind people of sacrifices made by servicemen in years past. Everything was loaned or donated, and as the number of items grew exponentially, Mault looked for a separate facility to display everything being offered.

Mault worked out a deal to rent the 1936 Patterson School off Weaver Road for $1 a year from Rowan-Salisbury Schools. The old school had been used for storage.

Over the years, Mault, Frank Albright and their friends kept receiving uniforms, photographs, models, guns, knives, bullets, bayonets, tank view finders, compasses, cameras, mess trays, dog tags, grenades, war posters, books and flags.

They filled the cafeteria annex of the school with all the memorabilia — some 5,000 artifacts — never paying a penny for any of it. People in the community just wanted to share military memories stored away in their closets, garages and attics.

It’s not real fancy, but the museum makes up for that with so much heart. Think about it, of all the items people could have saved connected to their service for our country, these are the things they kept and meant the most to them.

As of today, thousands of Rowan County fifth-graders have gone through the museum as part of annual field trips. Mault delights the most in letters he receives from the fifth-graders after they have made their visits, which include scavenger hunts through the museum.

The museum also holds a couple of special events every year — D-Day and Sept. 11, 2001, remembrance days. The school grounds then are filled with good people, food, military vehicles, tents, communications equipment and other displays.

Every Sunday, from 3-5 p.m., the museum is open to the public. There has never been a charge. All this has happened through people’s generosity.

One day, Mault hopes every room in the school can be devoted to a different branch of the military. Companies and people who have donated time and resources already are halfway through the main school with the installation of heating and air-conditioning.

The trouble with Mault, Albright and all the people who chip in is, they never toot their own horns. Mault hates to take any credit — and doesn’t believe he deserves any.

“I don’t like to get excited about stuff,” he says. “I just had the dream. Everybody else had the labor. I’m real thankful the lord blessed me with the people who came in and helped.”

Cress ran headlong into Mault’s humility this year. He wanted to surprise Mault with the news that Burr had paid tribute to the Price of Freedom Museum on the floor of the Senate.

But Cress learned quickly Mault wouldn’t enjoy the individual attention.

“He said, basically, ‘Thanks, but everybody needs to be recognized,’ not just him,” Cress recalls.

Back in January, Carolyn Barger, clerk for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, sent an email to Cress from retired Lt. Col. Charles Roy, who had contacted the county office to see how the museum and its founders could be honored.

Barger asked Jim Sides, chairman of the county commissioners, what to do with the request, and Sides suggested she contact veterans advocate Cress.

“She shot me the email, and I contacted Sen. Burr’s office in Washington,” Cress says. “I mentioned I wanted something more than a letter of appreciation. I thought it warranted a higher award.”

Cress said he and Burr’s staff “threw around” all kinds of options, until someone suggested an entry into the Congressional Record.

“Which meant it would always be on file in Washington, if anybody wanted to look it up,” Cress said.

Burr’s staff wrote a four-paragraph tribute read by Burr into the March 19 Congressional Record.

Cress said when the Record was printed, it did not meet Burr’s expectations, and he sent it back three times with revisions, “until it was exactly perfect.”

Cress recently received a package in the mail that included a frameable copy of what was entered into the Congressional Record, three Congressional Record booklets and an American flag which flew over the Capitol in honor of the museum.

“I know it’s a very high award,” Cress says.

He credited Burr for expediting things, “because this is a long process.”

“I had fun doing this for the museum,” Cress adds. “It taught me a lot about how the government works and the proper procedures that have to be in place to get an award of this magnitude.”

Cress said it was “a no-brainer” when commissioners asked him to pursue special recognition for the museum, which lists its goal as teaching all generations the true price of freedom.

Back when he was a sheriff’s deputy, Cress, a decorated Vietnam veteran, used to ride through Mault’s gas station while on patrol. He remembers seeing through the windows the military uniforms on display, and he’s amazed how the museum grew from its humble start.

“I think it shows sacrifices,” Cress says. “When you look at the uniforms worn by those in service, you can’t help but ask yourself what he has done in the service and how it affected our lives here in Rowan County.

“… It’s the kind of museum you need to spend hours in — you just can’t walk through.”

Cress emphasizes how the Congressional Record recognition honors all the volunteers who have spent thousands of hours in collecting the military artifacts. That doesn’t count all the cleaning, organizing and giving tours.

“They all need to be congratulated for the success Price of Freedom has become,” Cress says.

Mault agrees, of course.

He notes that the “fantastic letters” from fifth-graders keep coming in.

And when the kids are on their tours, he loves when a student stops by a photograph and shouts out, “There’s my granddaddy!”

“Boy,” Mault says, “that does my heart good.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or mwineka@salisburypost.com. The Price of Freedom Museum is located at 2420 Weaver Road, China Grove. It is open 3-5 p.m. Sundays, or by appointment. It’s next special celebration will be a D-Day Remembrance Day May 25, a Saturday.

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