WILLSHIRE – At first Aleta Weiss’ husband and daughter thought she was crazy.
She wanted to close down their business, Willshire Home Furnishings, over Memorial Day Weekend and turn it into a museum to honor military veterans.
That was four years ago. No one is calling her crazy today.
The museum has become a popular attraction over the Memorial Weekend with its displays of military uniforms from various eras and other related military keepsakes. Items like a Civil War drummer boy’s belt buckle can be found as well as items from the Japanese and Nazi armies.
“We take everything out of our showroom, even the wall deco, to display everything. As of right now, we have 103 uniforms on display,” Aleta said.
Veterans will often visit the museum and tell her stories about their time in the service.
“Most of those stories are so overwhelming it’s just hard not to get emotional. One in particular is about three boys from Willshire who went to Vietnam and were killed. I always try to do a little more extra for them.”
The display is free and open to the general public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, Sunday and Monday.
Also in the store, veterans and visitors can view a 20-minute music video put together by her daughter and son. Most of the photos are of local men and women who have served in the military
“I started the museum to honor my dad, Delmore Mitch, a staff sergeant who served with the 654 Engineer Topographic Battalion in Europe during World War II,” said Aleta. “He fought in several major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge. We knew little about his war career; he just didn’t talk about it. Just before he passed away in 1993, he told me about a envelope which contained all of his military history and he did not want us to open it until after he was gone.”
After his death, Aleta couldn’t believe what the paper revealed.
“It turns out he was in many battles,” she said. “He was in a small battalion, which drew maps that were used before the battles.”
When she purchased the store four years ago, she thought she would just display her father’s uniform in the window as a Memorial Day tribute.
“It looked kind of strange with just one uniform. So I went next door to the Legion and asked the commander for names of serviceman that I could call to get enough uniforms to display in each window. And before I knew it, 23 came in. I thought what in the world am I going to do with these. Then I looked at my husband and said ‘we just can’t put these on hangers, we have to display these things.’”
Bill Weiss got busy, making sticks out of old floorboards and building the shoulders up to display the uniforms.
On Friday, George Buhler, 94, and Millard Schwartz, 93, were among the veterans visiting the store. Schwartz summed up what everyone was feeling.
“This is great,” he said.