Thursday, February 23, 2012

Never Forget Martinsville

When I recently visited Deborah Hall, the Director of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society, I was planning on talking about endangered historic sites and tobacco barns. I had no idea of the experience I was about to have.

The Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society is located in the newly restored historic Henry County Courthouse. The historical society offers many exhibits inside the courthouse relating to local history, but they recently added a new exhibit— Never Forget— co-sponsored by Laurel Hill Publishing Company and Tom Hill, that is completely amazing.

Never Forget is an exhibit honoring the men from Martinsville and Henry and Patrick Counties who served or lost their lives during the Vietnam War.

When describing why they decided on the exhibit, Ms. Hall explained that one day she was reading the markers outside the courthouse that commemorates residents from the region who had died in various conflicts and she realized that the men who died in Vietnam had not received much recognition.

She had no idea that the exhibit they would produce to honor the local Vietnam War veterans would be so successful and would, as Deborah said, “Take on a life of itself.”

Once they announced that they were looking for information and memorabilia they began to get inundated with people bringing photographs, uniforms, weapons, medals, books, maps that were actually used during the war and all types of memorabilia that service members and families of service members had from the war.

The grand opening of the exhibit attracted hundreds of people and many more continue to come to see the exhibit.

Historical society members also undertook an oral history project where they recorded service member’s stories from the war. They set up a portable DVD player with a small screen so visitors can see and hear the interviews.

A large screen television was donated to the historical society for the project so that the many photographs— ranging from every day life of service members in Vietnam to war ravaged fields —could be easily viewed.

In June of 2011 Tom Perry, a local author and historian, visited the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C. and collected rubbings of the names of each man from Martinsville and Henry County engraved on the Wall. These rubbings are also now part of the exhibit.

Maybe it is because it is such a recent part of our past, so recent (less than 50 years old) that some people would not consider it “historic.” But, the only other times I have been so affected by an exhibit was when I visited the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina.

And consider that Martinsville created this exhibit all on their own, with only local donations and volunteers. I would highly recommend this exhibit to everyone. But hurry, unfortunately it will be gone come April 1st.

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