When Steve Appleby asks area students if they know Snoop Dog, Eminem, Kanye West, the Kardashians, Parris Hilton or Miley Cyrus, they answer yes. Then Appleby will ask which of them knows Jason Dunham is, and the students will not have a clue.
Appleby will explain that Jason Dunham was a Marine from Scio, in Allegany County, New York, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 after jumping on a grenade to save his buddies. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the highest honor in the military.
“I am trying to provide for our youth, good role models to follow,” Appleby said. “This is why the World War II museum is so important.”
Outside the WW II Museum
Appleby, the director of theEldred World War II Museumat 201 Main St., Eldred, Pennsylvania, became a WW II buff in second grade.
“When I was six or seven, you would often see me running around Eldred with my BB gun and Army helmet,” Appleby recalled. “I was keeping the Nazis out of Eldred, and they never took Eldred.”
The town of Eldred knew him as the WW II nut, Appleby recalled. When he was graduated from Otto-Eldred High School, he enlisted in the Army. The courage of America’s soldiers fascinated him and inspired him to join; he wanted to be like his WW II heroes.
“I continued to study WW II while I was in the Army,” he said. “It’s my passion.”
Appleby was in the Army for 27 years and retired with the rank of master sergeant. When he came back to Eldred in 2006, the World War II Museum had already been open for 10 years.
“I said ‘Thank you, God, my second dream job,’ ” Appleby remembered. “It was amazing when I first got home during the late ’90s and the World War II Museum was here in Eldred, of all places.”
The World War II Museum was in Eldred of all places because of the late Tim Roudebush. His father, George Roudebush, an American attorney, and J.W. Whitmore, a Canadian, had opened the National Munitions Company along Artline Road in Eldred in early 1941 under an agreement with the American and Canadian governments to provide materials for British forces. Then on Dec. 8, 1941, the United States entered the war.
According to the museum’s website, a munitions plant is a filling factory for the making of bombs, shells, cartridges, pyrotechnics, screening smokes, mortars and other bombs.
Women working in the National Munitions Company plant during WW II.
“Women came to work in the plant,” Appleby said. “This was an amazing war effort because while the men went to war, women went right to work to handle these explosives. Women working in the plant were huge towards winning the war.”
According to The Bradford Era, 1,500 women worked at the plant between 1941 and 1945, making 8 million devices. The plant was shut down in 1946.
In 1994, the younger Roudebush made use of his father’s property to set up a Christian camp he called Camp Penuel East. Two years later, he bought an old building on Main Street about a mile and a half from the camp and established the museum.
According to Appleby, Tim Roudebush had been a successful businessman and during his many travels he made a habit of asking people basic questions about American history and government, such as:
“What are our three branches of government?”
“Give me the Bill of Rights.”
“Who was our first United States president?”
Often Roudebush found people would not be able to answer, Appleby said.
“Tim was very upset with where our country has gone in the last 40 years,” Appleby noted. “Tim was the driving force towards making the WW II Museum. He was a wealthy businessman that said, ‘I want to buy out this old building here in Eldred where we can set up the Eldred, PA, WW II Museum.’ ”
The younger Roudebush had been adamant about teaching young people about good role models, Appleby added. He wanted schoolchildren to learn about the men who dropped everything to go off and fight the war. And he also believed people needed to know about the women who handled explosives all day in his father’s plant.
“Tim couldn’t believe people like Snoop Dog, Kardashians, Kanye West, Snooki or any other celebrity that kids were looking at as role models,” Appleby added. “He was very passionate about these men that fought in the war and the women that supported them by working in the plant. He thought these are role models kids should know about.”
The Eldred World War II Museum’s collection has grown to include over 4,000 records of men and women who served their country. The pictures, letters, uniforms, supplies, equipment and anything else related to WW II are either displayed in various exhibits or stored for future exhibits. Currently, the museum is showing two World War II era vehicles on loan from area collectors. One is a German BMW motorcycle; the other, an American three-quarter-ton weapons carrier.
But the museum exists for more than storage and display. “Any veterans we meet, we try to interview,” Appleby said. “Our mission here is to collect the story and facts, then disseminate them. It’s our job here to teach kids about these heroes that served our country.”
Museum director Steve Appleby (right) with WW II veteran
Appleby said he believes that people learn more from the museum when they know the story behind each uniform and soldier shown in an exhibit. “When you get to actually touch history, it has a better impact, and what we are trying to do is have an impact,” he said. “There is a story behind each picture, uniform, item, letter and equipment here at the museum.”
Appleby tries his best to get students into the museum. Area schools arrange visits every year, and Appleby also goes out to meet with students in their schools.
“If schools can’t make it here to the museum, then I pack up a box full of stuff and go to them,” he said. “I will make a full day of visiting classes – for 45 minutes from 8 a.m. till about 3 p.m.”
Appleby recalled that a student in the Pennsylvania town of St. Mary’s was so influenced by a visit from Appleby that he started a fundraiser to establish his town’s first Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The memorial has a big stone, bricks and a flag. During the ceremony, the student said a few words crediting “a guy” from the World War II Museum.
The late Colonel Mitchell Paige, a Medal of Honor recipient, was photographed at the Eldred World War II Museum. The photo on the right shows Paige in his dress whites. Click the photos to learn more about Paige, who died in 2003.
“His father came and visited me at the museum and said, ‘Are you Steve Appleby?’ and I said yes. The father got out a newspaper with the article about his boy and the town of St. Mary’s first Vietnam Veteran Memorial. The man said, ‘My boy was influenced by you, and I thought you should have an article from the memorial event.’ ”
Appleby noted that the receipt of student thank-you letters is very rewarding because he knows he is making an impact and that as long as the museum remains in Eldred, he can continue to disseminate information and impact students’ lives.
“With the budget we have right now, we have about seven to eight years left here at the museum,” Appleby said. “We are doing more fundraising to continue the mission of influencing people.”
From left to right: Former museum director Jay Tennies of Eldred with Tim Roudebush and Steve Appleby
Appleby intends to keep telling the stories of America’s WW II veterans and their courage. Doing so will make America’s youth want to know about other soldiers such as Jason Dunham who made the ultimate sacrifice, he said.
“Influencing people to live their lives the best they can is what we want here at the museum because that is what soldiers have died for,” Appleby said.
When people first walk into the museum, they will notice a quote by philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Appleby wants museum visitors to leave knowing that the 16 million soldiers who fought against the forces of greed and aggression during World War II should not be forgotten. He wants them to understand that the lesson learned from WW II is the need to stop evil before it gets out of control.
Lawrence Bugoon’s 101st Airborne uniform
He wants people to understand the words of George Orwell: “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
He added, “And that is powerful stuff … teaching young people about the men and women during WW II that dropped everything to serve and win the war. It is our mission here to disseminate their stories because they will never be forgotten as long as people remember them.”
(The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for anyone 18 and over, but free for young people under age 18 and and for veterans of World War II. The telephone numbers are 814-225-2220 and, toll free, 866-686-WWII(9944.)
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