Photo courtesy of the Post 108 Museum in Oxford, Mich.
Legion member James Parkhurst curates the Walter Fraser Post 108 Museum in Oxford, Mich., which houses more than 200 military uniforms and even more artifacts from past and present eras of military history. Schools, civic groups and passersby all visit the free museum.
Post 108 raised the initial $15,000 to fund the museum and built the showcases. Another $8,000 was donated later for expansion.
It began with about 35 uniforms in the basement of the post in 1993, Parkhurst said. His father, decorated World War II veteran Lewis Parkhurst, and other older veterans had outgrown their military uniforms, but wanted a place for them to be maintained or displayed. There were also some World War I artifacts.
Since then, the Post 108 Museum has grown to hold about 225 uniforms, including ones from Silver Star and Navy Cross recipients, as well as from the Devil's Brigade and Green Beret, among other units.
The outfits find their way to the museum in many ways; although they all have some local connection. For instance, the post fired rifles at the funeral of a Tuskegee airman mechanic, and the family later presented the museum with his uniform, Parkhurst said.
Parkhurst said without museums like theirs, the items would likely be lost or thrown in the trash. There is an understood protocol for flags, but not for uniforms.
"Each uniform is from different time-period of war. Each has a medal from that era," Parkhurst said. "It's a piece of honor to have that uniform."
The 175 feet of display cases, paid for and built by Legionnaires, also include replica planes - such as the 42-inch wingspan Enola Gay, balsa wood ships and other artifacts.
Another unusual collection the museum boasts: 75 pillowcases, many of them silk, sent home from soldiers to their mothers and sweethearts. They are embroidered with verses or illustrations of battleships. Some flaunt fringed edges. Because they were available at the PX, they became popular gifts, Parkhurst said.
They have a decommissioned Cobra helicopter and a two-thirds scale replica of a Civil War cannon outside, representing "one spectrum to another: old to new and modern," Parkhurst said.
But he said students are particularly drawn to an old version of the Michigan flag. They also are intrigued by the story of the Enola Gay, because many of them have learned about the atomic bomb in school.
However, many of the stories the Post 108 Museum chronicles aren't taught in schools, Parkhurst said. The aim is to spark interest and unearth family military stories, "in hopes that they start asking questions when they go home from Grandpa or Uncle Joe or whoever they might have that was in the military."
"It means a lot to the older generation as well. Not only the younger to learn, but the older to remember and tell those stories. That's what it's all about," Parkhurst said.
The museum is open after noon every day.