Wellsburg POW museum a well-kept secret

WELLSBURG — The National American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum, Education and Research Center has been a magnet for history and visitors from throughout the U.S. and Japan since it’s start in 2002.

However, many visitors to the Brooke County Public Library, where it is located, still are surprised to find it.

“It is one of West Virginia’s best-kept secrets,” said Jim Brockman, the museum’s executive director since 2014.

Launched by Wellsburg locals Ed Jackfert and his wife, Henrietta, the museum is believed to contain the largest collection of materials related to the experiences of more than 70,000 Americans and Filipinos forced to walk the Bataan Death March and many other Allied troops captured following a five-month battle against Japanese invaders of the Philippine Islands in 1942.

The two compiled maps, photos and written accounts from POWs for the museum’s first display, housed in a cabinet provided by the Friends of the Brooke County Library.

Since the museum’s opening in 2002, numerous contributions of photos, letters and other artifacts have been received.

The additions have included a samurai sword presented by a Japanese Imperial Army officer to the late Abie Abraham of Butler, Pa., a POW involved in recovering the remains of fallen troops following the war; a 30-caliber semiautomatic Springfield rifle used during the battle and donated by Tony Bilek, a veteran in Rantoul, Ill.; and a box camera used by former POW Joseph Vater Sr. of McKees Rocks, Pa., and some of the hundreds of photos he took of fellow POWs and the camps where they had been held captive.

Among them is the chaplain’s kit used by the late Rev. Walter Linaberger, a local Methodist minister who joined the Army in 1942 to offer spiritual support to troops serving in North Africa, Italy and France. The kit includes small glass cups used for communion, a steel cross, assorted prayer books and hymnals for various denominations.

Most recently, the museum was given artifacts belonging to World War II Veteran Ken Curley from Shippensburg, Pa.

The museum finds Curley’s Bronze Star and Purple Heart to be of interest.

The museum was visited by officials from Mitsubishi Materials who, during the same visit to the U.S., offered an apology for the harsh conditions experienced by hundreds of American POWs forced to work for the company’s plants and mines. The company donated $50,000 to the museum.

For the last several years, a walk has been held to mark the anniversary of the Bataan Death March. This year’s event will be held at 10:15 a.m. May 4, and will include a special display of military equipment, military vehicle rides, and a free lunch for participants.