DeRidder unveils World War II artifacts

By By Cliff Seiber / American Press

Friday’s Veterans Day celebration in DeRidder will be a very special one as a trove of military memorabilia passes from private

to public hands.

The collection of paraphernalia

from World War II and the Korean War collected and maintained by

DeRidder historian Velmer

Smith will be unveiled in its new home in the historic War

Memorial Civic Center. The center, listed on the National Register

of Historic Places as the first USO club in the nation, is located

at 250 W. Seventh St., on the corner with La. 27.

The unveiling program will be at 10 a.m. Guest speaker is Capt. Rachel Z. Smith of Fort Polk. A luncheon free to veterans

and their spouses will follow at 11 a.m.

“I have always been interested in

World War II,” Velmer Smith said, “even when I didn’t know what the war

was about. I remember

hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and running to tell my

mother about it, even though I had no idea what it meant.”

Smith had two uncles in the war, so she heard family talk about it.

“They talked about bathing with water in their helmets and eating C-rations,” she said.

“I was surprised that anybody came back, with all the horrible things Hitler started,” she said.

Smith began collecting relics from the war and eventually had amassed enough to create a museum in her home.

“Of course it was private but available to the public by appointment. At the War Memorial building it will be open at regular

hours,” she said. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays by prior arrangement.

“I hope with all the hotels and motels and meeting facilities in Lake Charles that more veterans groups will hold meetings

in Lake Charles, and they can include excursions to the War Room in DeRidder,” she said.

One particularly important item is

the top secret Norden bomb sight used in two wars. Some authorities

have said the device,

which permitted pinpoint bombing, helped the Allies win World War

II. One veteran left Smith’s museum with tears in his eyes.

He said he had guarded the bomb sight for many months and

accompanied it to and from the planes with the bombardier making

bombing runs. He didn’t see the device or know what he was


A man, hearing of her interest in war items, contacted her and said he had a number of Air Force articles and the bomb sight

was included. As with most of her collection, she bought it. Some things were given to her.

A man in Berlin, Germany, asked

her to make an offer on some articles he had, and one that she purchased

was a cooking pot

that was manufactured with an inscription that it was made for use

by the SS troops at the infamous Buchenwald prison camp.

“It was especially interesting to me, since I have visited Buchenwald and was told of the horrible things that went on there,”

Smith said.

The War Memorial Civic Center is dear to Smith’s heart because she once went there as a dance partner for service men. She

did the research needed to gain the center’s place on the National Register.

If you go

Unveiling of the War Room collection of World War II and Korean War artifacts in the War Memorial Civic Center will be at

10 a.m. The center is located at West Seventh Street and La. 27.

A luncheon free of charge to veterans and their spouses will be held in the center at 11 a.m.

The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays by prior arrangement.