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Military museum honors local veterans

MONTICELLO — Since its opening in mid-February, the LawrenceCounty Military Museum – the latest addition to the Lawrence CountyRegional History Museum – has grown in popularity, operating hoursand substance.

“Now that the museum has opened, artifacts just started comingin,” said museum curator Charlie Bufkin, who serves on the board ofdirectors for both the military and regional history museums. “Ihad a hard time at first. I just had to scrape and try to findpeople willing to bring stuff in.”

Now, Bufkin said, everyone wants to provide their little bit ofhistory.

“Everybody has got a story to tell,” he said.

The military museum has a limited focus, and its one room on thebottom floor of the Lawrence County Civic Center is devotedentirely to local veterans of wars ranging from World War I to thecurrent Iraq War.

“I felt like we had to have some way to honor our militarypeople here in Lawrence County,” Bufkin said. “We aren’t big enoughto spread out, so I decided I wanted to do it specifically on ourlocal heroes.”

The museum’s current room full of local military artifacts allsprang from Bufkin’s first two pieces – a pair of helmets onceowned by E. A. Turnage, a Lawrence County native who served asadjutant of the Mississippi National Guard. The entire collectionsprang up around Turnage’s helmets and a picture of him – and hishistory – is one of the museum’s main display pieces.

Another war hero honored in the museum is Monticello’s Arnold E.Vinson, an ace with seven victories in the United States Army AirForce before being shot down to his death over Tunisia during theNorth Africa campaign of 1943. The first American ace to fly theBritish Spitfire, his history was also collected early on in theformation of the museum and remains a center of focus.

Monticello High School graduate Capt. L. A. Pierce, who servedas Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s signal corp public relations officerand sent the first notice of the Japanese surrender back toAmerica, is also enshrined.

Through one solid year of research, travel and “begging andborrowing” historical artifacts – often a difficult process -Bufkin managed to assemble enough history and material to organizethe museum around several Lawrence County veterans. The museumfeatures military documents and soldiers’ mail, photographs,weapons and uniforms.

Several items of special interest are on display in the museum,such as a G.I. Bible carried in World War I, a German helmet with abullet hole mailed home during World War II as a souvenir and acaptured German swastika banner.

All of the museum’s contents were assembled from scratch byBufkin. He acted mostly alone, relying on the advice and resourcesof other museum curators throughout the state and his knowledge oflocal veteran families.

Before the museum came into existence, Bufkin was not even afactor in the county’s museum scene.

“I wasn’t on the museum board, just the board of directors forthe civic center,” he said. “I thought we needed a military museum,and I just kept after them.”

Once Bufkin managed to secure permission from the board, he wentheadlong into assembling the museum.

Monticello’s American Legion Post 27, of which Bufkin wouldeventually become the commander, donated $4,000 to the creation ofthe museum. Bufkin designed and the museum’s display cases, whichwere built by Monticello Cabinet Shop.

The museum is dedicated to Johnny Clyde Ready, the commander ofAmerican legion Post 27 at the time of the museum’s formation.

“I think we spent our money well,” he said. “I didn’t know whenI first started working on the museum that I would enjoy it somuch.”

The museum is currently open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. until earlyafternoon, but plans are currently being made to extend themuseum’s hours to all day on Monday through Fridays.

Anyone who wishes to donate artifacts or volunteer at the museummay call Bufkin at 601-587-0138.