By Michael Pineda
Veterans Day is approaching and with it, an opportunity to gain some knowledge and insight with a visit to the Yukon Veteran’s Museum.
The museum will be open Friday morning for coffee and tours. The museum features artifacts and historical information dating back more than a century. It is manned by volunteers like Jerry Stafford, who serves as the chaplain and treasurer for the museum board.
“When we were over in the other building, I went up to visit them a couple of two or three times,” he said. “Then I had some things that I could donate, and I found out they had moved here, and they needed volunteers to help and everything else. Two or three months later, I started to volunteer.”
The museum opened in July 2013 at 601 Oak Avenue and is currently housed at 1010 W. Main Street. Stafford was drawn to the museum through a love of history and his service in the U.S. Navy. Stafford said he used to buy pocketbooks when out to sea and read them when standing in line. He remembered falling in love with history as a student in school and through family. An uncle served in the Army in World War II under Patton before shipping to Japan. The love for history was further developed watching documentaries.
Stafford takes that knowledge and uses it to expand on the displays in the museum when conducting tours.
“I read about people,” he said. “I have read about different weapons. I can’t go into detail with Army stuff or Air Force stuff. To some extent, I can with the Air Force planes/ But I can get in depth about the Navy.”
Stafford served in the Navy from January 1955 to July 1964. He saw service on a straight deck carrier, the U.S. Hancock in addition to two years in Beeville, Texas where fighter pilots trained. Stafford worked on the flight deck in launches and recoveries, a job that demanded focus.
“You got to have your head out of your rear,” he said. “Within six months, I got blown down the deck underneath two aircraft and had eight stitches put in my head.”
I was down on an elevator and brought a helicopter out and I was tying it down to take it up to the roof.”
Stafford remembered another time when he was on an elevator and brought a helicopter out. He remembered tying it down to take on deck when he was relieved. He was walking away when the ship went into a turn and a big wave came over.
“I started running, turned around and the helicopter is laying half on, half off,” he said. “The plexiglass is busted. The pilot and the crewmember were cut up and the two guys that relieved us, they didn’t find one of them.”
Stafford further illustrated the danger of working on a carrier, when he broke a leg while helping move a bomber to the catapult.
Those memories and other stories come back to life among the displays and historical artifacts of the museum.
“There are a lot of things in here that I have learned from reading that some of the guys don’t even know about,” Stafford said.
Stafford feels that he helps fill a void. Stafford said kids that he meets do not know about the Vietnam War or World War II.
“I had a history teacher and he taught all about the war,” Stafford said. “He spent more time on World War II than anything because that was the turning point of America right there.”
“It (museum) is like any place. It is something that someone can come to realize there is history here because we don’t have much history here in Yukon. And the military history is something that the people of Yukon ought to be very proud of because of what we have got. We got stuff coming in here all the time from kids and parents that don’t want anything of their grandfather that fought a war.”
Stafford said it is important to get the kids, particularly high school kids in the museum to see the displays and visualize the history. Should a guide be needed, Stafford is always willing and able. He enjoys visiting with younger generations and has taught Sunday School since he was saved in 1980. He currently teaches first grade boys.
“You don’t think I have to get down to their level to talk to them,” he said. “Thank God for stick people.”
Stafford volunteers at the museum on Wednesday and comes in for four hours on Saturday after knocking on doors for his church. He is also on call in case another volunteer cannot come in.
“For me, I love to talk,” he said. “I love to tell what things I have learned things that are happening that relate all the way back to olden times.”