Artwork from a World War II-era postcard is seen above. DeRidder’s War Memorial Civic Center, housed in the old USO building, is exhibiting artifacts from World War II during Veterans Day celebrations this weekend.. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, November 08, 2012 3:52 PM
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 guarding.
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.
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.
Posted By: Lauretta Houston On: 11/9/2012
Title: World War Ii Artifacts
Velmer has always respected our veterans and their families. She has put an overwhelming amount of time and money into these artifacts. She is very humble about her part in all of this.Ths passionate lady will teach anyone who wants to learn. DeRidder and Beauregard Parish owes a huge thank you to this lady.