Military museum run by veterans offers reflection, education

Published 4:39 pm Friday, November 10, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Visitors of Brookhaven’s Military Memorial Museum have a lot to take in when they walk through the doors. It is housed in a former railroad depot where countless troops have likely shipped off to war, or the wounded men were brought to Brookhaven’s hospital during the Civil War. 

The stories of Brookhaven soldiers are shared in pictures, handwritten letters, newspaper clippings and donated memorabilia. Museum volunteer Roffie Burt said most of the items and people in the museum have a connection to Brookhaven, Lincoln County or the surrounding areas. 

Burt himself served in Vietnam. He spent a year in the Air Force before joining the US Army. He was volunteered by a brother to help at the museum when it first opened 20 years ago. Paul Jackson helped the museum get its start. Randal Smith built three model ships in the lobby and Greg Whittier made the model airplanes.

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“Dr. Barnett served on the USS Providence as a flight surgeon. The USS Oklahoma was sunk at Pearl Harbor and the remains were laid to rest in Wesson in 2018. The last boat made was a river boat in honor of Vietnam.” 

Walking around the museum, Burt pointed to memorabilia which caught his eye. One was a tri-fold poster of Brookhaven High School students who left the school to serve in the military during World War 2. He pointed out a collection of pictures showing Barnett working on the USS Providence.

In the lobby, he pointed out a mannequin wearing a nurse’s uniform. It was his sister’s uniform from the army when she was a nurse. 

He pointed to tacked up headlines from over the years. Many of the newspaper clippings are from World War two. One newspaper clipping talks about a Prisoner of War camp in Brookhaven. 

“We had 200 Germans here on Union Street over by Mamie Martin. We sent troops to England and the ships would come back empty,” Burt said. “When we captured Erwin Rommel’s North African division all of a sudden we had 200,000 German soldiers and it was cheaper to bring them back here than hire guards in England. We were a satellite camp to Camp Shelby. My brother actually guarded POWs at a camp in Picayune.”

Another room is filled with old fighter pilot helmets, guns from conflicts including a shotgun put together with a pipe. A disarmed bomb is on display. Burt said a machine gun nest with sandbags and a tent gets the attention of most children visitors. 

It is easy to walk past stories and overlook them by chance. One gray uniform was donated to the museum by a local graduate of West Point Academy. To the left of the uniform, a glass display case houses pictures and information about the still missing Danny D. Entrican, whom the local VFW Post is named after. 

Entrican was a Special Forces reconnaissance patrol leader for his team in Vietnam. On May 8, 1971, his team went on mission in the Da Krong Valley in Thua Thin Province in South Vietnam. Three days later, he was wounded in a firefight and separated from his team. He remains unaccounted for according to the Department of Defense 52 years later. 

One of the items on display in the case is a bracelet like the one Kim Henderson mentioned in a column in 2020. 

Still going 

Brookhaven’s Military Museum is still going strong but the number of visitors have dropped since COVID-19. Burt said the museum had about 700 visitors a year but the numbers have now dwindled to 350. 

He and the volunteers are all in their 80s. Tommy Smith and Randal Smith still volunteer at the museum. They take turns on the weekends if people or groups call ahead for an appointment. 

“We could use some younger volunteers. We are all in our 80s and we still serve from the respect we had for those World War Two guys,” Burt said. “I keep volunteering for them. I have a big military history in my family as well. My grandfather fought in the Civil War, my dad fought in World War I and my brother fought in World War II. My sister put in over 20 years.” 

Open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m The Military Museum is located on Whitworth Avenue.