Whether a medal, canteen or helmet, every piece of military paraphernalia has its own distinctive story to tell.
One way to help unlock those stories is to take military-related items, whether passed down through the family, found in the attic or acquired antique hunting, to the Virginia War Memorial for the Artifacts Roadshow on Jan. 27.
The first-come, first-served event features Virginia War Memorial curator Jesse Smith, along with experts Robert House and Warren Shindle, examining items. House, whose area of expertise is firearms and edged weapons, works at Classic Firearms and Echoes of Glory Auction House in Virginia Beach and Shindle is a photo expert specializing in U.S. military photography from the 1840s to 1940s.
The public service event aims to help the public identify their memorabilia as well as any possible historical significance they hold. Artifacts of any era beginning with the War of 1812 through the Global War on Terrorism will be reviewed and preservation tips offered. There's no admission charge or fee to have an expert review artifacts, although donations to the Virginia War Memorial are appreciated.
"I'm asked a lot as a curator what something is, or what's the meaning of a patch or [they say] 'I have this item my dad or granddad brought back as a souvenir,'" Smith explains. "We knew that there are many people out there with the same questions, but they may not be able to come see me during the week, so we host the roadshow to help the public know what they have."
This is the event's fifth year and an array of items — First World War helmets, wartime photos and letters — have been brought in to be seen.
"We had several War of 1812 Nathan Star manufactory swords come through, one that was attributed to the 2nd Virginia Regiment," Smith says with the appreciation of a curator. "Another unique item was a photo album from General Ridgway's personal pilot during the Korean War with a lot of great unpublished photos of the general during the war."
Most of the items brought in the past hold more sentimental or historic value than monetary. When something is deemed truly historic or rare, the curators advise the owner to have the item appraised. And while the goal is not to solicit artifacts for the Virginia War Memorial, Smith says some items have been offered to it.
The Virginia War Memorial is undergoing an expansion of parking and construction of a larger auditorium for indoor events and education programs. Smith says the most important aspect of the expansion, scheduled to open in summer 2019, is a new shrine that will commemorate the names of those killed during the War on Terror.
For Saturday's event, limited parking is available in front of the Memorial, as well as next door in the Virginia Housing Development Authority's parking lot.
The curators are open to reviewing anything military-related from bayonets to uniforms, and from any country. Firearms may be brought to the show, but will be checked, inspected and tagged at the door by trained staff before review and must stay unloaded.
Just to be clear, Smith has a final reminder. "No ordnance or live munitions, please." S
Military Artifacts Roadshow, Jan. 27, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.at the Virginia War Memorial, 621 S. Belvidere St., virginiawarmemorial.org.