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LARSON: Gwinnett Museum makes every day Memorial Day

Paul Pickard, Director of Gwinnett County Veterans Memorial Museum, shows off some military memorabilia.

Paul Pickard, Director of Gwinnett County Veterans Memorial Museum, shows off some military memorabilia.

For Paul Pickard, every day is Memorial Day. As Director of the Veterans Memorial Museum at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse, Pickard who is retired from the Air Force, is one of about 20 volunteers who keep our military history alive.

When they renovated the old courthouse they set aside a small area to display a few Civil War relics they had sitting around. In 2005, Pickard, along with a group of veterans from American Legion Post 232 in Snellville, asked if they could work on improving the display. As soon as word got out, donations started pouring in. People went through their attics and provided mor than 60 military uniforms plus 900 pieces of war memorabilia.

"A lot of it came from grandparents whose grandkids didn't want it," Pickard said. Some items were gifts. Others are on loan just in case a family member might want to reclaim them.

The museum has grown to four rooms packed with memorials.

"Gwinnett Parks and Recreation has been very good to us," Pickard said. "When we started to have a space problem, they built all our bookcases and display tables. Thanks to them, we're now a full-fledged museum and we've had over 20,000 visitors."

Among the attractions are a document of Japan's declaration of war on the United States and Great Britain, a phone used by John "Black Jack" Pershing during WWI and a flag that flew over a pup tent at Wheeler Army Airfield on Pearl Harbor Day, full of shrapnel and bullet holes. And then there's the Japanese hand grenade, well, you have to hear that story from one of them.

But the museum is about more than a collection of things. David Berndt, retired Navy, likes to point out that they like to focus on the people who are remembered here.

"We try to give life to the veterans and their stories," Brandt said.

One of their most treasured items is "Unforgettable Faces," a book of pencil drawings and biographical sketches of POWs and MIAs in Southeast Asia, by Shary Aument. Catherine Calhoun, of Lilburn had found the book in a Goodwill Store and donated it. It sits in a case next to the poem, "What is a Vet," by Father Denis Edward O'Brien/USMC, donated by retired Marine Buddy Wilkins. Another display highlights stories of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Clarence Dixon, who was recently named Volunteer of the Year, especially enjoys giving tours of the museum and adding personalities to the pictures.

"We try to get word out to the schools," Dixon said. "Phoenix High School visits every year, but a lot of people still don't know about us."

Well, now at least all my readers know. And even if you can't visit anytime soon, please take a moment every day to remember.

The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays and admission is free. Visitors, volunteers and veterans' memorabilia are always welcome. For more information, go to www.americanlegionpost232.org or become a fan on Facebook.

Susan Larson is a freelance writer who lives in Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.