I have just installed a new archival exhibit at the Kingsport Public Library. It celebrates the men and women who served our country during the first and second world wars and honors the people who supported them while they strived to maintain home and community.
I think I learned more from researching for this exhibit than I have from curating any previous one. I learned about what community organizations did to support the war effort and the vital role the Red Cross played. I learned about what things families went without by studying rationing guidelines. I read touching accounts of loss, capture, and patriotism. In fact, it was difficult to stop the reading and start writing and preparing.
I learned about David Rankin whose father, Major Curtis Rankin , was killed 19 September 1944, while serving with the Seventh Armored Division in France. I also learned about Tennessee heroes like Clyde Mitchell, who guarded German SS prisoners after World War II ended and was revered for his fairness and humanity; Alvin C. York, whose efforts to shut down and capture German machine-gunners earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor and a place in Hollywood history; and hometown heroes like the employees of Tennessee Eastman and Holston Defense whose hard work earned them our country’s highest honor for excellence and allowed our forces to succeed on the battlefield.
I think my favorite find was a scrapbook from the Palmer Family Collection. Elbridge Woodman Palmer was the president of the Kingsport Press for many years. He was an advocate for disabled children’s healthcare and, because of his passion for books and publication, the local history and genealogy room in the Kingsport Public Library is named The Palmer Room. E.W. and Lillian Palmer had two sons. One of them, Elbridge William Palmer, served in the US Army during World War II and died of wounds received on Okinawa on 28 April 1945. The scrapbook preserves every letter that Bill wrote home to his parents while at boarding school, at university, and in the service. What a treasure! His letters reveal a gracious, intelligent, humorous young man with tremendous love and respect for his parents.
This exhibit would not be possible without families, organizations, and individuals who carefully preserved their histories and thoughtfully donated their papers to the archives so that everyone might benefit from them.
Items in the exhibit come from twelve different collections and I cannot possibly discuss them all in one blog post. Luckily, “Homefront” will be on display on the main floor of the Kingsport Public Library through February 14, 2015.