First Baptist Church displays military artifacts ahead of Independence Day


Boots on display at First Baptist Church of Starkville as part of its military exhibit ahead of Independence Day (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
SDN EDITOR

Tucked away in an open wing at First Baptist Church of Starkville, dozens, if not hundreds of stories are on display and scattered about on tables. 

On the south wall of the room hangs a silk Japanese flag from World War Two with a message written on it and immediately over on the east wall just feet away, an American flag shows 49 stars - a rare find after Alaska became a state in January 1959, but months before Hawaii became a state in August of that year. 

These priceless treasures hold innumerable tales of bravery, heroism and loss during wartime, all underscoring the human price paid by each person represented in the exhibit. 

The makeshift museum features artifacts from local military veterans dating back to World War One, with nearly all of the pieces coming from church members. 

The idea was the brainchild of Susan Jones, who received help from fellow church member Tom Jenkins to get the project rolling. 

Photo gallery: Military artifacts on display at First Baptist Church

Church Communications Director Bobby D’Alessandro told the Starkville Daily News the primary goal was to let their church family and the community know about the rich history often overlooked in Starkville. 

“Susan Jones brought it to the attention of Tom Jenkins, the music and media pastor here, she said this was something they had done before at a previous church, but it went over really well so with Fourth of July coming up, she wanted to do something similar here,” he said. 

D’Alessandro browsed over the tables, careful not to mishandle any of the precious pieces of history spread throughout the room. 

“We’ve got World War Two, Korea, and we have some members who are active up to current operations,” he said, holding an aged New Testament Bible with a tin coat over the top. An inscription in the metal reads “May This Protect You.” 

The Bible also holds yellowed black-and-white photos from sometime in the 1940s. 

“(The exhibit) covers a lot of ground and it’s a neat thing because we’re a church,” D’Alessandro said of the unconventional venue. “With the men and women that served, from our purview, because of them we have our religious freedom to practice our beliefs, so that’s really the core of what we’re trying to honor.” 

Other installations in the exhibit include the flight suit and helmet worn by current church member and Air Force Lt. Colonel Randy Baareman, a fighter pilot of 22 years who flew in Operation Desert Storm. 
Also incorporated are Vietnam-era military artifacts from Marine Corps Captain and current church member Charles L. Wax. 

“This was Mr. Wax’s, this was his while he was over in Vietnam … and he brought his footlocker of all things,” D’Alessandro said pointing out the history behind the items. “This section is all Vietnam era, a lot of them have cards with information.” 

Wax donated his footlocker to the exhibit, complete with his olive green fatigues and photos from his time in the service. 

Church member and former military photographer Jim Henson, who was a photographer’s mate 2nd class in the Navy during the time between the Korean War and Vietnam, donated his camera and photos to the temporary exhibit.

On a table near the front are two pieces that are among the oldest in the collection - two WWI-era artillery shell casing turned into vases at a French foundry. 

For those interested in viewing the exhibit, D’Alessandro said  they can visit before the 11 a.m. service today and after 11 a.m. service. 

“We will have lunch on the ground so basically they will get a free meal then Monday through Friday, the church office is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while we are in business hours, anybody can stop by.” 

While the main goal of the temporary museum is to expose the community to history and honor the church members who served in the military,  D'Alessandro said they also wanted to send a message to those with loved ones currently serving. 

“We really just want to thank them and let our active duty member families in our church feel loved, supported and encouraged,” he said. 

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