The Key Peninsula Historical Society will honor local veterans all year in 2023 with an elaborate and detailed exhibit about KP servicemen and women at its museum located in the KP Civic Center, itself a historic complex of buildings in Vaughn.
“Each year, the society has a theme for its museum, and this year’s theme is honoring the veterans of the Key Peninsula,” said KPHS volunteer Dr. William Roes. Artifacts on display come from local men and women and their ancestors who served the nation from the time of the Revolution to Afghanistan.
There are uniforms worn and decorations earned by Key Penners from World War I to the present on display, together with a sword from the Civil War on loan from the Van Slykes, a KP pioneer family, and rare examples of uniforms from the Cootiettes.
An offshoot of the Military Order of the Cootie Auxiliary, the all-female Cootiettes provided care and entertainment for veterans beginning in World War I when lice — “cooties” — was an all too familiar problem. The white dress represented their hospital work, the red vest and tam the bloodshed of war. The uniforms on display are resplendent with pins and medals earned by the service of those who wore them.
“These uniforms are hard to come by, because the women usually wanted to be buried in them,” said KPHS volunteer Joe Dervaes, himself a retired Air Force colonel.
Also on display is a list of every veteran buried in the Vaughn Bay Cemetery, he said. “It’s over 350 names. It’s a huge representation. And that’s a real strong statement. When it was time to go, we went.”
Roes said the exhibit is not about war, but is meant to celebrate Key Penners who served their country, most of whom were in World War II.
“Local veterans of WWII served all over in the European and Pacific theaters, on all the oceans, and one local vet spent the entire war in Brazil, surveying for the Army,” Roes said. That soldier survived a boat capsize on the rapids of an Amazon tributary, an airplane crash, and an encounter with locals who’d killed his predecessor with poison darts.
“There were also several women vets,” he said, “including Nat Knox and Judy Wilson, who both served as Army nurses during the war before returning to become local nursing icons and the founders of the first medical clinic on the Key Peninsula in 1972.”
Another local champion whose story is on display is Ruth Bramhall, who was not in the service, “but was our own ‘Rosie the Riveter’ making her contribution to the effort by building planes down in California.”
“We’d love to collect more information about veterans with local ties,” Roes said. “We’re putting together a notebook that we hope can preserve the identities and stories of those men and women who we honor and remember this summer.”
Dervaes maintains a list of local veterans but recognizes that many go unrecognized because they are reluctant to talk about their military experience. “Each war had specific after-effects upon the health of veterans,” he said.
The exhibit contains many familiar names. The individuals and their families are often the very people who have made, and are still making, significant contributions to the KP community.
The KP Historical Society museum is located at 17010 South Vaughn Road NW. It is open Tuesday and Saturday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m., and by appointment. For more information, go to www.keypeninsulamuseum.org or call 253-888-3246.
Aisle of Honor Ceremony
The Key Peninsula Veterans will conduct its annual Aisle of Honor ceremony at Vaughn Bay Cemetery Sunday, May 28 at 1 p.m., the largest of its kind in the United States west of the Missouri. Seven service flags and over 350 casket flags will be flown from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The names of 455 veterans from the Key Peninsula and family members will be read aloud during the service. The keynote speaker is Roy Harrington, Veteran Service Officer for Belfair. kpveteran.com
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