Just over 4,000 persons made up the population of Arlington when the U.S. Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor was attacked on that day of infamy in December 1941.
Before the most cataclysmic war in history was over almost four years later, 50 Arlington families would receive telegrams telling them their sons wearing our country’s uniform had been killed in some faraway place most had never heard of.
Their stories, along with those of many WWII veterans who did get to come home, are available for you to explore in extraordinary detail accompanied by artifacts of war ranging from a small vial of the sands of Iwo Jima to a Marine’s Seabag bearing the wear and tear of having been carried in battles across the islands of the South Pacific.
There’s also a Japanese soldier’s rifle with bayonet attached that you can gaze upon and imagine what it must have been like to see the enemy charging at you with intentions of ending your life.
All the ways to experience the reality of a war that impacted the lives of every American are on display in the front room of the 100+ year old Fielder House that stands today as the museum of Arlington’s History.
Arlington Historical Society’s executive director Geraldine Mills and treasurer Wanda Marshall would like to welcome you to the exhibit and narrate a tour through it all that makes the 80-year-old era of American history seem very local and personal.
You will discover extraordinary accounts of the lives of Arlington boys who gave their lives so the rest of us could live as the freest people on earth. Like this one:
For more than seven decades, Arlington teen George Anderson Coke, Jr., serving as a Navy Seaman 1st Class aboard the torpedoed and capsized Battleship USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, lay buried in a mass grave in Hawaii among 22 crewmen whose remains could not be identified.
On June 24, 2017, thanks to the Department of Defense DNA analysis, “Little Joe” came to rest in peace with his parents in Arlington’s Parkdale Cemetery. A full military burial honoring his final devotion to duty to his country marked the long end of a life cut short by war.
Also killed that day was Francis “Beartracks” Heath, who was aboard the USS Nevada. They were Arlington’s first casualties of World War II. There are 48 more accounts of the lost lives of Arlington boys you can discover thanks largely to the research that Geraldine and Wanda credit to the work of Arlington Vietnam War veteran Richard Aghamalian.
Among the accounts of Arlington veteran survivors of the war is that of Captain Valin Woodward, who flew a record 88 bomber missions and, despite severe battle damage on several of those operations, ranked among the three best records of any B-24 in the entire U.S. Eighth Air Force. A photo of Capt. Woodward’s entire crew is on display.
In one exhibit, you may recognize Army Air Corps Medal of Honor recipient Lieutenant Colonel Neel Kearby. The Pacific Theater’s top-scoring P-47 Thunderbolt pilot is credited with 22 aerial victories – then a record – before his own fighter was fired upon and crashed into the New Guinea jungle. His body was not recovered until 1949.
A statue of Col. Kearby stands in the plaza between the downtown library and city hall along with a memorial listing the names of all 50 Arlington men who lost their lives on battlefields across Europe, North Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
Inside the Fielder House Museum, their stories come alive while providing the bonus of a greater understanding of the entirety of the most extraordinary history of American life ever experienced.
My short description in this limited space is just a sample of what awaits you at the museum at 1616 West Abram Street that’s open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It’s an experience you really shouldn’t miss.