A set of light tan boots, one laced up and the other missing its lace with desert sand underneath them, sit in front of a military rifle in a stand with a helmet on the butt. The symbol of a fallen warrior — in this case to honor Jon Michael Schoolcraft III.
His widow donated the items in his memory. Schoolcraft, of Cridersville, died in January 2008 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The display is situated in the middle of a dispaly room devoted to all the soldiers who have fought in battle through the ages for the United States, her citizens and the country’s beliefs. The Freedoms Colors display attracted hundreds of visitors the past two days during the St. Joseph Church Fourth of July Festival.
“I bring this display here because I think it educates, not only our youth but the public who has never served, and it honors all of our servicemen and women who did serve,” Freedoms Colors organizer Ralph Reynolds said. “As a veteran, it is a commitment from me to the veterans who did not make it home whether they were KIA, POW-MIA or for whatever reason.
“I think it is very important that everything in here has a soldier or a serviceman or servicewoman behind it and I think for their commitment and their service to our country — I think this is worthy,” he said.
A light misting throughout the day swelled the crowd who could discover the stories behind the weapons and equipment of soldiers fighting in the wars in the desert — Afghanistan and Iraq — as well as Vietnam, Korea, World War II and the other skirmishes along the way.
Reynolds and his family stood near the entrance of the exhibit throughout the two days of the Fourth of July Festival to help answer questions and to protect the soldiers’ memories. They set up the display every other year.
He said he feels a sense of pride when people come in and look, of which more than 500 people visited the site on Independence Day and more on the previous night.
But Reynolds said he gets choked up when a veteran or an active member of the military walks through the door.
“I have veterans come up to me every other year when we set up and they shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you’ — that means a lot to me,” Reynolds said. “I want positive criticism — if I am doing something wrong in any way, shape or form to dishonor them by what I am doing then I want to change it. It means a lot to me to thank me, and they are the ones donating their stuff to show.”
The Vietnam War veteran recently had a fellow Vietnam War veteran donate some of his gear that the veteran had stored in his basement for 30 years. He wanted people to understand more about the conflict which started approximately 50 years ago.
A U.S. Army specialist, dressed in his uniform, walked through the door of the display. It was his third visit on this Fourth of July, Reynolds said.
“It is a great honor to get know other guys that had served even before I had a chance to serve our country through this display,” Than Bowersock said. “I really love all the older stuff and all the other wars we fought in.
“It amazes me how far we have come through the years as an army,” he said, referring to the army itself and the technology they use. “I have a lot of respect for the men who served before me and for those who will serve after me. I am amazed at how much better things are now then they were for them back then, and I hope they get better for the men who will serve in the future.”