Virginia War Memorial staff returns to Lunenburg for more stories

They got what they came for. When officials from the Virginia War Memorial arrived in Kenbridge on Sunday, April 7, they talked to a number of veterans, also accepting multiple artifacts.

“There were letters written by a Kenbridge resident to his future wife, describing his service life and some of his firsthand experiences during World War II,” said Anne Hamlett. She works with both the local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter and the Lunenburg County Historical Society. “There were also two people in attendance whose fathers participated in the invasion at Normandy. They had one-of-a-kind pictures and handwritten notes their fathers wrote, detailing some of their activities. This information gives a firsthand account of the daily lives and some of the experiences these soldiers encountered, preserving our freedom.” 

But this isn’t a story just to mention what happened last month. Some War Memorial staff will be returning to Lunenburg County on Sunday, May 5, for another round of conversations and collecting items. 

The event will take place at Kenbridge Christian Church on Sunday, with Virginia War Memorial archivist Sylvia Marshall looking for both stories and artifacts for the museum’s database. She’ll be there with Melanie Hatchell from the William Taylor DAR chapter, the second of three planned visits to Lunenburg County as part of this project. As for how long the event will take place, well that depends on Lunenburg residents. It will start at 2 p.m. and War Memorial officials say it will last until Marshall has met with every person that shows up. 

WHAT IS THE WAR MEMORIAL? 

Before we talk about what’s happening to any donated artifacts, let’s answer another question first. What is the Virginia War Memorial? The answer starts more than 50 years ago. During World War II, official records estimate that nearly 10,000 Virginians died while fighting in the Army, Navy or Marines. In 1950, the Virginia General Assembly signed off on plans to build a memorial to honor and remember them. 

By the time the Virginia War Memorial was dedicated on Feb. 29, 1956, soldiers from the Korean War had been added to the design. Other wars followed, including Vietnam, The Gulf War, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. To date, nearly 12,000 Virginians are honored at the Shrine, which sits on four acres overlooking the James River and downtown Richmond. Now the operation includes not only the Shrine, but a museum, veterans’ art gallery, studio for recording veterans’ stories, an auditorium, lecture halls, classrooms and a collections database. 

And aside from paying tribute through a physical monument, VWM honors soldiers by telling their stories. 

They travel to different parts of the Commonwealth and hear firsthand accounts of service. Those discussions get recorded and used to help fully build out their permanent collection, detailing Virginia’s role in the U.S. military. They’re not just looking for wartime soldiers who fought in battles. They want to hear it all, everything from the soldier who just got out of basic training to the 30-year veteran who has seen it all in his or her time. 

And yes, they’re also looking for artifacts. Some of them will go up on display at the Virginia War Memorial, located at 621 S. Belvidere St. in Richmond. Others, including personal letters like the ones Hamlett mentioned earlier, will be taken to get scanned and copied. Once those items are copied, then they get returned to the owners. The copies, meanwhile, will end up in the VWM database. 

HOW WILL THEY BE USED? 

That database of material isn’t just used for exhibits in Richmond. The artifacts and stories help the VWM officials provide help for teachers. Often, teachers don’t include local or regional ties to events because no one knows about the connection. But through help from the VWM, teachers can take these stories and provide material that localizes certain events. That way, the teachers can share stories they might not know existed, about Lunenburg natives who fought in specific battles or did certain things while in service. 

WHO IS INVITED SUNDAY? 

So who is invited Sunday to the event at Kenbridge Christian Church? The answer is pretty much everyone. Veterans are encouraged to come and share their stories. Family members are invited to bring letters, journals or any other military artifact they have from a loved one who fought in World War II or any more recent operations. The church is located at 519 S. Broad Street in Kenbridge and the event begins Sunday, May 5 at 2 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, you’ll have one more chance to contribute. 

And for anyone looking to get in contact with the Virginia War Memorial staff can do so by calling 804-786-2060.