Each year the Board of Directors chooses a volunteer who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to support the museum; this year we honor Ms. Julia Smith. Here is Ms. Julia’s story told in her own words!
From the first conversation regarding the establishment of a veteran’s museum in Athens until the initial opening of the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives, my Marine husband and I were extremely interested in this endeavor. His grandfather, William Marion Smith, served with the Tennessee Volunteers during the Civil War, where he suffered a gunshot wound in his leg, was captured and experienced life as a POW for three years at a federal prison in Ohio. Because of his difficulty walking, a piece of wood was inserted into his muzzle-loading Enfield musket rifle, and he used it as crutch while a POW and on his long journey back home after the war ended. My husband, his grandson, obtained the rifle and frequently remarked how he would like to donate the rifle to a museum where it would be safely preserved for future generations to enjoy. Today that Enfield rifle is displayed appropriately within the walls of the museum with a picture of the Civil War veteran and a short military history of his life.
My husband, John Selby Smith, was born and grew up on a farm in northwest Lauderdale County, Alabama. He lived a rather isolated life until the outbreak of WWII when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. I was born the only of child of my parents in the little railroad village of Dellrose, Tennessee, a few months following the beginning of the Great Depression. My father was employed by the L & N Railroad Co., and my family moved around to various locations in north Alabama and southern Tennessee during the next few years. However, we always considered Athens our home. Even though both my husband and I had relatives who served in the Civil War, WWI and WWII, my major connection to the military was meeting and eventually marrying my WWII Marine husband.
Some of my most memorable experiences associated with the military include accompanying my husband to the reunions of his fellow Marines, especially those in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where they were hospitalized upon their return to the states after the war ended. He never wanted to talk to me or other friends and relatives about his combat experiences, but when these veterans got together around a table at the Leatherneck Club during a reunion, it was a joyous occasion. I learned a lot just by listening to their stories about their combat experiences in the South Pacific Theater of War.
After almost 60 years of marriage, my husband’s death was difficult for me. I began contemplating what kind of volunteer work I might choose to help me recover from the loss I had experienced. It was not long before I decided that the Veterans Museum would be a good choice because both of us were so proud that the museum had been established.
I am beginning my tenth year as a volunteer at the Museum, and I cannot conclude these remarks without mentioning our wonderful library, which is one of the best military libraries in the state of Alabama. We are all looking forward to getting moved into a larger building, the former Limestone County Event Center, where our library will be on the ground level with easy access and where all of our books and other collections will be available for our visitors to enjoy.
The story told in these comments of mine is the story of only one veteran. The artifacts displayed in the museum tell the stories of many veterans representing all the wars in the history of America. Visitors can walk among the actual uniforms, medals, photographs and weapons to hear numerous stories about the sacrifices of our local veterans.
By: Sandra Thompson
Director, Alabama Veterans' Museum