Genealogical Society displays military memorabilia

Donna Schmidt, Kathy Barnes and Julie Saum of the Blue Star Mothers were on-hand to talk to visitors about their organization's mission of helping the mothers of active and honorably discharged military personnel. (Pioneer photos/Josh Roesner)

Donna Schmidt, Kathy Barnes and Julie Saum of the Blue Star Mothers were on-hand to talk to visitors about their organization’s mission of helping the mothers of active and honorably discharged military personnel. (Pioneer photos/Josh Roesner)

BIG RAPIDS — Rifles, uniforms and war-time photos replaced the usual tomes of family history as the focus of visitors’ attentions Saturday at the Mecosta County Genealogical Society.

In honor of Veterans Day, Maureen Nelson began organizing the event as a way to allow local veterans and military historians to showcase their military memorabilia and talk about their knowledge of the armed conflicts where the U.S. has been involved.

Jim Jennings, of Barryton, fought in Vietnam in 1966-67. He brought several Vietnam-era items, including his helmet, an unopened ration container and a chess set recovered from a Viet Cong tunnel.

Jennings also brought a set of Prisoner of War bracelets that had been left at the Michigan Vietnam Memorial in Mount Pleasant, which he oversees.

“I collect and log the items left at the monument,” he said. “People leave photos, flowers, sometimes money.”

While fewer people leave items at the memorial than the first couple years following its opening in 1990, all items are still collected and stored in the memorial’s informational building where they remain on display.

Jennings currently is working to collect photos of all the Michigan soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. He has more than 400 photos, which have been arranged in a Powerpoint presentation he takes with him when displaying his memorabilia.

Also present were members of the recently-formed Meceola Chapter of the Blue Star Mothers, an organization whose mission is to provide support to the mothers of military personnel.

“We support each other, and let (mothers) know they have sisters nearby,” said Kathy Barnes, a member of the Blue Star Mothers of Ionia, Kent and Montcalm counties who helps organize BSM chapters across Michigan. “We add their son’s address to our list so members can send cards or care packages.”

Membership in the Meceola Chapter of the BSM is open to any mother of a member of the armed forces, both active or honorably discharged. For more information, contact Donna Schmidt at (231) 349-7743 or meceolabsm189@gmail.com.

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