Ex-POWs visit Brooke museum

WELLSBURG – Members of the Ex-Prisoners of War Barbed Wire Chapter toured the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center Wednesday and learned about efforts to collect local veterans’ stories in a book series.

Chartered in 1974, the group is comprised of former POWs from Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Belmont counties who meet monthly for camaraderie and have spoken to students and other groups.

Its leader is John Chernenko of Wellsburg, a former U.S. marshal and state senator who was captured by German troops while fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.

During the group’s business meeting, another visitor, Marilyn McCord, noted the museum board is planning a book featuring short profiles of veterans living in Hancock, Brooke and Ohio counties.

The project was inspired by the “Marshall County Patriots and Heroes” series produced by Gary Rider, an author and former teacher, and his wife, Patty. In its fourth volume, the book series has compiled the stories of hundreds of Marshall County veterans.

Ruby Greathouse, museum volunteer curator, said the veterans will be asked to share special stories of their military experience and briefly describe their civilian lives afterward and how their military service affected them.

She added the group will be raising funds to print the book and will accept donations in honor or memory of a veteran. Plans call for such contributions to be acknowledged in the book.

Veterans interested in being featured in the book may obtain information forms at the Brooke County Courthouse or libraries in each county, by calling (304) 312-5316, e-mailing bchmcc2012@gmail.com or writing to: Military Heroes Project, 704 Charles St., Wellsburg, WV 26070.

The former POWs also heard from Del. Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, who shared legislation involving veterans, from the requirement that all state facilities fly the POW-Missing in Action flag daily to the planned construction of an assisted living facility for veterans in Beckley.

Following the business meeting, the group toured the museum, including two rooms dedicated to military service and conflicts involving Brooke County residents dating from the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the many items displayed are World War II-era military uniforms worn by local residents; copies of a 1940s Weirton Steel bulletin listing employees in the military and containing photos of many of them in uniform; a photo of Isaac P. Duval, a Union Army genera; and half of a Union flag that belonged to him.

Paul “Bud” Billiard donated to the museum several items belonging to his uncle, Steven J. Spataro, who was a radio man in the Army Air Corps, a predecessor to the Air Force, who was killed in 1942 when complications during a training maneuver caused his plane to go down.

Greathouse said it wasn’t unusual for officers in a Union regiment to divide the flag into pieces for souvenirs.

In addition to Chernenko, POWs who visited the museum included Pete Lallone of Wellsburg, who also was captured during the Battle of the Bulge; Dave Dean of St. Clairsville, a retired Air Force major who was aboard a bomber plane when it was shot down over Germany; Boyd Engle of Glen Dale, who was an assistant tank driver when he was captured in Italy during World War II; and Bill Daniel of Wheeling, who was in an Army infantry unit that faced the guns of a German tank before he was captured during the war.

Located at 704 Charles St., the museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Arrangements for visits at other times also may be arranged by calling (304) 737-4060 or (304) 312-5316.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)