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Memories on display at American Military Museum

American Legion Post 23’s best kept secret is its American Military Museum at 109 W 2nd Avenue in Gastonia.
The building that houses the museum was built in the 1930’s to honor veterans in Gaston County. Post 23 paid for it, and the city built it. It didn’t become a museum until the 1950s.
According to current adjutant Tony Sherrill, the museum went strong for 20 years but then fell to mothballs.
It was Charlie Wetzell who took a special interest in the museum and made it what it is today, a collection of stories. Wetzell revived the museum and was its director until his passing. When people visited the museum, they didn’t just get the history of items and events; they got stories.
Charlie’s is one of the first stories you will see in the foyer of the museum.
Charlie was serving in Germany during WWII when he was wounded in combat. Charlie thought he wasn’t going to make it because he felt slimy ooze coming out of his chest. He thought he was bleeding out. It turned out Charlie wasn’t leaking, the can of beans in his coat was. An enemy bullet had hit the can, missing his heart, and instead shot through his chest and arm. The can of beans was pouring all over him and his injury, but it saved his life.
As an added bonus, the gun that shot Charlie is also displayed at the museum. His sergeant shot the man who shot him and took the gun as a gift for Charlie.
“When we lost [Charlie], we lost a lot of information,” Tony Sherrill said.
Jim Mayo is the museum director now and continues Charlie’s legacy with guided tours and stories about every display and exhibit.
A dedication to the Rambling Rebels drum and bugle corp sits on display in the museum’s library. The Rambling Rebels were nationally recognized and performed all around the country — including during President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953. According to Sherrill, in the 1950s, the drum and bugle corp was going to be on Edward R Murrow’s CBS news show, but their segment was cut due to time restraint. There was such an outrage from fans over their omission that the show had a camera crew fly down to Gastonia and film the Rambling Rebels at home.
The reels of film from that footage are at the museum.
The museum houses items from the Civil War all the way up to present day. Upstairs is a collection of German, Russian, Japanese and Korean weaponry. Down stairs in the rotunda is a display of some of the Gaston County soldiers throughout the generations.
Among those featured is AH Fuller, the first Gastonian to achieve the rank of general.
“There are so many names and artifacts up there. You would just have to look,” Sherrill said.
The museum is open 2-5 p.m. every Sunday or other times by appointment.
During Jim Mayo’s guided tour, make sure you ask him to tell you the story of William Lawson Jr, and what he did to make the US government let him fight in both WWI and WWII.

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