Mobile World War I Museum Visits Heritage Ranch
Maureen North (L) a Heritage Ranch resident presents
Keith Colley (R), Curator of the WWI Mobile Museum with her grandfather’s photo, enlistment papers and dog tags. PFC Andrew Buck Bright was born on June 6, 1894, 125 years before the Heritage Ranch Museum’s visit
Keith Colley is a man focused on an important mission. Colley, a bereavement counselor, who lives in Oklahoma, now spends a lot of his time on the road traveling around the country displaying his Mobile World War I Museum. In that role, he serves as educator/curator and enjoys countless connections to veterans and their families, including a woman who was one of the nation’s “Rosie the Riveters”, building war machines during the Second World War. Colley remembers, “She became something of a celebrity at one of my stops a couple of years ago and really enjoyed the recognition she received from so many people.”
This year, Colley will visit 50 different sites where, single-handedly, he installs twelve display booths, it takes a full day to erect the displays and another full day to dismantle and pack them into his twelve-foot long trailer. The collection continues to grow as more and more people discover the Mobile Museum.
Colley explains how it all began, “One of my hospice patients was a WW II veteran suffering from Alzheimer’s. He had no short-term memory but was able to recall many details of his combat service during the Second World War. That experience enabled me to realize that our connections to history, especially the two world wars, were rapidly diminishing as veterans continue to pass on. I began gathering oral histories of World War II veterans after that experience. But my focus for now remains on World War I. The first artifact that I was able to secure came to me during a visit to Turkey where the grandson of a World War I veteran gave me his grandfather’s trenching spade, a small shovel that soldiers carried on their backpacks so they could dig foxholes quickly for protection. As we talked about his grandfather’s experiences tears rolled down his cheeks. That spurred me on to begin gathering other World War I artifacts and the Mobile Museum has grown from one display to twelve different displays and it keeps expanding as more and more people discover our presence and provide us with their own family’s heirlooms”.
A display contains a combat uniform of one of the US Army’s messengers, men who would cover long distances as runners carrying messages from outpost to outpost. The survival rate of these soldiers, according to Colley, was a shocking 2%. The uniform of this messenger is tiny as he was only 5 feet tall with a 24” waist. Fortunately, this messenger survived combat.
Another interesting artifact is a “Trench Organ”, a small portable organ that would travel with an Army unit and provide musical accompaniment to prayer services conducted near the trenches so common to the battlefields of World War I. Colley explains, “The savagery of the fighting during the first world war was so intense that many soldiers felt an urgent need to reinforce their religious beliefs. These organs played an important role in allowing that to happen.” The organ was donated to the Mobile Museum by the family of a WWI veteran in Ranger, Texas.
Colley was interviewed at Heritage Ranch, coincidentally on June 6th, the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, during the museum’s show there. The Mobile Museum occupied half of the ballroom and was visited that day by dozens of armed forces veterans and their families, especially kids. The visiting veterans served during WWII, Korea, Vietnam, The Gulf War and Afghanistan. Sadly, all veterans of World War I have all now passed on, making the Mobile Museum’s displays even more compelling. One of the many visitors to the Mobile Museum at Heritage Ranch was Maureen North, a resident there, who presented Colley with her grandfather’s WW I army photograph, enlistment papers, and dog tags. “When I learned about this Museum coming to Heritage Ranch”, North smiled, “I was so excited to see it and make my grandfather’s relics part of the collection.
Colley relies on contributions provided to his nonprofit organization by museums, retirement communities, nursing homes, city-sponsored events and schools. Following the one-day exhibition at Heritage Ranch, Colley will set up the museum again at The Chateau, a retirement facility, in McKinney and he will remain in North Texas through June. In January, he will present a 10-day exhibition in collaboration with the Frisco Independent School District. “That extended exhibition”, he says, “Excites me because it will be visited almost exclusively by kids, many of whom will be learning about the importance of the World War I experience first-hand and probably for the first time.”
For more information about the Mobile Museum, visit the website (ww1mobilemuseum.com) where you can secure information about coming dates and locations.