Friday, August 1, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: The Mountaineer Military Museum

I saw a sign one day, pointing the way to the military museum in Weston, WV. That day I was traveling with my sisters, exploring the Museum of American Glass in Weston, but I made a mental note to seek out the museum sometime when Larry was with me. Last month I was telling stories at the library in Weston and we decided this was the day to find the museum.

Originally built as the Weston Colored School, a school for black children built in 1882 during segregation and in use until 1954 in ,the Lewis County School Board donated use of the building for the Mountaineer Military Museum.

The building looks deceptively small from the outside but it houses a fascinating and sobering collection.

The museum is a work of remembrance for founder Ron McVaney and his wife Barbara. McVaney and several of his friends went into the military together during the Vietnam war. McVaney was sent to Germany, while his friends were sent to Vietnam. McVaney was the only one to come home alive, and he made a vow then that his friends would never be forgotten. The museum, begun after his retirement, is his way of keeping that promise.

The museum was not actually open the day we visited but Mrs. McVaney was there doing some work and graciously allowed us to enter. Inside the door, a visitor is immediately met but a corridor lined with portraits.

Mrs. McVaney explained that this is their Hall of Fame, and that any family in West Virginia can send in pictures of military family members to be displayed in the museum. The number of portraits quickly filled the hall and the display has spread to other places in the building as more arrive almost daily.

We were amazed at how professionally and creatively the museum was arranged. Many of the items were the Mcvaneys personal collection, but as word got out donations poured in from West Virginians around the state, and even from out of state.

She must have been a very special teacher; many soldiers wrote to Miss Darnall
during their time of service in WWII
The school board built on a new room as the collection grew, and the new space allowed the McVaneys to bring in an old Army Jeep,

and to build a little hut (they call it the "hooch") where veterans and others can spend quiet time in meditation.

A beaded curtain covers the entrance to the hooch. The beads were recommended by vets
who remembered the hooches in Vietnam--a place to relax and maybe party.
A video runs in the room, a moving tribute to veterans of all wars.

The displays are organized by time periods and wars/conflicts, from the Civil War to the present. The Civil War display is no larger than any of the others; in fact it might be smaller but that seemed all right to me, since that war is well covered by other museums, while later conflicts like Korea get little attention.

I was pleased to see that women vets were not overlooked. Almost every war display included something about the females who were part of the armed forces.

Uniformed mannequins stood with each display.

I was surprised to see that even Desert Storm and the Iraq War were included, and are continuing to be developed.

The museum continues to grow as donations continue to be made for the various displays. I know we're already looking around our house and thinking about what we have that might be better used by the museum.

I highly recommend the Mountaineer Military Museum as a place to visit: it reminds us of the toll of war, the sacrifice made by many, and of the responsibility we all have to remember those who defend our country. It's a humbling experience, and I left thankful that there are people like the McVaneys who give so much that we might all benefit.

The museum has limited hours as it is staff by volunteers. Call ahead if you would like to visit when the museum is closed and a tour might be possible. Located at 345 Center Avenue, Weston WV 26452, the museums hours are Friday and Saturday from 10am-4pm in the summer, and in winter on Saturdays only from 10am-4pm.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Michelle said...

Wonderful to see a museum of this sort and obviously people have donated much to it.

Country Whispers said...

This looks like a neat place to visit!
Another military museum to visit in WV is Top Kick's in Petersburg, WV.
Definitely worth visiting if you are ever over that way.
Trying to catch up and I saw that you had been to Mdsv. again and visited my cousins ice cream shop.
So much to see there too!

Barb McVaney said...

Dear "Granny Sue"! Thank you, VERY much for this wonderful, and obviously heartfelt article about your visit to the Mountaineer Military Museum. My brother found your blog and sent it to me yesterday. I've "shared" it on the Museum's FaceBook page, and have received many positive comments. I can't wait for your return visit. Thank you, again. Respectfully, Barb McVaney, Co-owner, Mountaineer Military Museum

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