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Cherokee County museum collects dog tags for new veteran memorial

Jacksonville Daily Progress - 1/11/2020

Jan. 9--CHEROKEE COUNTY -- Shiny new dog tags, bearing the names of fallen soldiers from four different wars, hang from the ceiling of the Heritage Center of Cherokee County museum, each suspended by a piece of clear line.

It's a campaign to let residents know that those fallen in battle are never forgotten and part of a project in which 220 tags will be on display by Memorial Day as part of a remembrance ceremony.

"I don't know of any other projects like this done by a county, and we're fortunate, because a lot of counties don't have a list like this," said museum director Betty Marcontell, describing how she garnered names from a program of a war memorial dedication 20 years ago in Jacksonville.

"The people from this county, we come from pioneer families who loved history and we want to see it stay alive," she said. "I've been wanting to do this since we first began the museum."

The idea formed when Marcontell visited a similar display in Austin, and "I thought it was a great idea," she said. "This past October, I thought, 'This is the time to do it.'"

She found a company online that creates dog tags and began researching names from the Jacksonville marker, using every resource available.

"I had called the city to see where the data was stored of the men's names from the Jacksonville monument, and I started looking through different books I had. There is a virtual wall available online for the Vietnam War, and I found out there also is a Texas Honor Roll for those who died in World War I and World War II," she said. "If people know of names, a person they know who died, I need that data so I can have dog tags made for them, too."

The display-in-progress includes the tags bearing names of fallen soldiers from both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, representing those original servicemen recognized as part of the memorial in Jacksonville.

Additionally, information gathered on each service member has been compiled as part of a slide show, as well shared as on the museum's Facebook page, "Heritage Center of Cherokee County, Texas," as part of its "Never Forgotten" photo album. The album is updated each year on the anniversary date of a fallen hero's death.

"We also have pictures of all the foreign cemeteries on the slideshow -- if someone is buried there, we note it on their page," Marcontell said.

Whether buried abroad, in the county or elsewhere, "they are connected in some way to Cherokee County, though family here, or even if they just attended school here," she said.

Work on the project "has been pretty consistent -- and it's been interesting."

For instance, while researching the background of Lance C. Wade, who died during World War II, Marcontell discovered that he was an RAF fighter pilot.

"Wade was from Reklaw, and went into the service before our country did. He went to flight school and then got into the Royal Air Force," the United Kingdom's aerial warfare force. Sunday, Jan. 12, marks the 76th anniversary of his death, she noted.

However, not every fallen hero's story is complete -- some are surrounded by mystery.

Henry E. Bradford, an African American World War I veteran who died Jan. 12, 1919, is part of an extended family that includes G.W. Bradford, for whom Rusk Primary School is named.

"We have his information, about when he died, and that he was a private ... but no one knows where he is buried," Marcontell said. Still, "you study these men, and their history comes alive. To me, that's what it's all about -- there's a presence there, and they are not forgotten."

At this time, a total of 75 tags have been created, featuring name, rank, branch of service, date of death and the town where the serviceman is from.

"They'll be hanging in the museum's Military Hall of Honor, and the ones that are already up look like they're floating in the air, shining when light hits them," she said. "It's amazing. I can just imagine what it will be like when all of them are up there."

Patrons may donate funds to the project -- each tag takes $15 to create -- and can either pick a name from the list, or just make an overall contribution.

For now, the cost is being underwritten by the museum, which is a non-profit entity on a restricted budget.

Marcontell said she also hopes to create tags for those who died during other wars fought by the United States, including the Civil War and more current battles.

"I don't know what kind of dog tag we'll make for them, but we can do something with names -- so if you have a soldier who died during the Gulf War or anything to do with the War on Terror, I need their names and their information," she said.

As this segment of the project wraps up, information about the following men is still needed: World War I -- John Derden, Fred Garrison, Chester Grisby, A.C. McDaniel, Toby Stevens; World War II -- Richard Anderson, Ray Compton, Coster DeHaven, John H. Dodge, Dillma Easley, Frank W. Hackson, Tommy Marshall, A.W. Williams; Korean War -- Charlie Moran, John Thompson.

Contact Marcontell at 903-714-8685 or bmarcontell@cebridge.net, or visit the "Heritage Center of Cherokee County, Texas" page on Facebook to submit information.

Donations to the dog tag project may be sent to the Heritage Center of Cherokee County, P.O. Box 974, Rusk, Texas 75785; please note "dog tag" in the memo line.

The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, or by appointment on weekdays.

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