Read about the USS West Virginia model here.
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Although the Raleigh County Veterans Museum's centerpiece is the 20-foot long scale model of the battleship USS West Virginia, the museum displays thousands of other military artifacts to help tell the stories of conflicts ranging from the labor movement's Battle of Blair Mountain to the war in Afghanistan.
Exhibits range from a door used to contain inmates in a cellblock of the infamous Dachau concentration camp in Nazi Germany to a crossbow used by Montagnard tribesmen allied with U.S. troops in the Vietnam War.
One room is dedicated exclusively to helmets worn by military personnel from all branches of the service, both friend and foe, from World War I on, while another contains field gear, weapons, flags, uniforms and emblems from Allied and Axis combatants in World War II.
A display covering World War I includes a hand-cranked noisemaker used to warn entrenched doughboys of an attack, while a display focusing on the Vietnam War includes a brick from the infamous Hoa Lo prison, better known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton.
While its presence might not yet be known statewide, "this is the best military museum in the state," said museum director James Toler.
Founded by a group of Raleigh County veterans in 2001, the museum is contained in a former home with a modular addition facing Harper Road, a short distance off the West Virginia Turnpike's Harper Road exit.
Toler and volunteer Joshua Brooks, a 16-year-old walking encyclopedia of military history, maintain the exhibits and help interpret them for visitors.
Next to the huge USS West Virginia model, which he spent 17 years building, the exhibit Toler is most proud of is the Dachau concentration camp cell door, an artifact that recently came into the museum's inventory.
The door apparently came into the possession of a U.S. Army officer who was stationed near the Bavarian death camp after World War II, and had it shipped home to West Virginia with furniture and other personal possessions when his tour of duty there ended.
One day, a female relative of the officer called Toler and asked if the museum was interested in a door from a Nazi concentration camp, which she initially identified as Auschwitz.