03/09/04 — Attic dust-catchers become museum treasures

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Attic dust-catchers become museum treasures

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 9, 2004 2:00 PM

WARSAW -- People in Duplin County are always bringing artifacts to the Duplin County Veterans Museum on Hill Street in Warsaw, says curator Randall Albertson.

And when people aren't bringing in stuff, he's interviewing people like former prisoners of war. He videotapes the interviews and makes them available for viewing in a room of the museum that houses artifacts from the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The museum is in the old L.P. Best home, which was renovated in 1996 to be used for the Veterans Museum.

The Best house was built in 1894. The windows downstairs extend to the floor. Albertson said he has been told the house is one of 18 in Duplin County that are a neo-classical design. "Apparently the architect came from Europe," said Albertson. "Best was a merchant and apparently a big landowner."

Period furniture pieces and portraits of the Lucius Pender Best family are also downstairs. Best and his wife, Hulda, had a son and three daughters.

She was a big shopper, one of Warsaw's biggest spenders, said Albertson. "The children said whenever she'd spent a lot of money, that day, when Lucian came home, she'd have him a toddy fixed and waiting at the door."

The family donated money to help restore the building and gave some furniture to the museum. "Imagine if walls could talk," said Albertson. "I bet a lot of politics went on here."

A baby grand piano that sits in the bay window in the front of the house has been tuned and still plays well. An eight-day grandfather clock chimes every 15 minutes. A Victrola in the hall still plays quarter-inch-thick Gene Autrey records.

"Downstairs we're trying to keep it like it was in 1894," said Albertson. "We've had some weddings and receptions here."

At the foot of the stairs is a Roll of Honor containing information about the people who served in the military who were either born in Duplin or lived part of their lives in the county. Albertson said about 4,300 names are included so far.

He has eight binders in places throughout the county with forms for people who have family members in the military who have not yet been included in the Roll of Honor. They can fill out forms and send the information to Albertson, who then updates the Roll of Honor.

"We have 11 generals from Duplin County, which is pretty good bragging rights, I'd say," says Albertson.

The first was Lt. Gen. John Sampson, born in Ireland in the late 1730s.

The latest is Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who is from Warsaw. McNeill has three stars, and Albertson says he's on his way to a fourth. He was appointed as the leader of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and he has recently been appointed the deputy commanding general and chief of staff of Forces Command at Fort McPherson in Georgia.

The museum's artifiacts are kept upstairs. "We've been fortunate," said Albertson. "Just about anything having to do with a war we have in here. People empty out their attics and bring things."

He said the artifacts in the museum can be either given to the museum or be loaned by families. They're protected under glass, with locks and alarms.

The Civil War Room has artifacts from that war, the War of 1812 and World War I.

The World War II Room has the graffiti: "Kilroy was here." When the GIs landed somewhere, he said, they would always look for "Kilroy" graffiti.

The room has weapons, the Carbine, the M14, the MI and some Japanese weapons. Albertson said the Japanese beheading sword still gives him the chills. A Japanese flag framed on an easel shows notes written to the soldier by his friends and family when he went to war.

Other artifacts include ration stamps for gasoline, sugar or whiskey. Albertson has been told that "when the gas stamps ran out, you went and got the mule and dragged the car back to the house."

In the World War II Room is also the sign of death, a bayonet stuck into the ground with a helmet on top. "When someone died on the beach, they would take his bayonet and put it in the sand over the body."

In the great hall between the World War II Room and the Vietnam and Korea Room there are mannequins wearing the uniforms from all of the U.S. military services. In front of pictures are his uncles' military personnel files. Two of the uncles are County Commissioner Arliss Albertson and State Sen. Charlie Albertson. The others are Jack, Preston and Hallie Albertson.

The Vietnam and Korea Room has a chronology of the Korean War from 1950 until 1953. It shows the phases and the leaders who fought. The weather was cold, said Albertson, and a lot of the men froze to death. "The GIs had a field jacket," he said. The caps had flaps to cover the ears. "We were inadequately supplied."

Albertson's inventions are in the Desert Storm Room. He was a chief warrant officer with the National Guard in Desert Storm and created equipment that made it easier to put down tents and take them back up. Also on display are many pictures he took while he was there.