By June Mathews
The phrase “God and country” always brings tears to Connie Horsley’s eyes. For a patriotic Christian like her, the words often spark an emotional response.
The longtime church librarian at First Baptist Church Trussville (FBCT), Horsley has several family members who served in the military and feels that honoring veterans’ contributions to our country’s wellbeing is the right thing to do.
“Our military personnel can never receive enough recognition for the sacrifices they make for our freedom to live in this great country and to worship our Lord Jesus Christ without fear,” she said.
So Horsley and her staff of volunteers assembled over 175 photos, plus other military memorabilia, for a Veterans Day exhibit throughout the library.
“It took us over a month to gather photographs and information on each person, i.e., branch of service, years of service, and if they served in any war or conflict,” Horsley said. “We also contacted several people in the church to see if they had any military memorabilia that we could borrow.”
After that, it was a matter of spending a weekend of hard work to get the many items for the display identified and arranged.
The collection includes church members’ family photos of military personnel from present-day back to one of a Civil War veteran. Three of the photos are of World War I veterans; 36 of the photos depict veterans who served in World War II.
Ed Smith, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam era, contributed photos of himself and family members to the display.
“I think it’s marvelous that the church is recognizing veterans,” he said. “From my perspective, it is a way to not only honor the people who served but to show young people what veterans volunteered to do to protect their country.
“My dad and my uncle were World War II veterans; my grandfather was a World War I veteran; I’m a Vietnam era veteran and my stepson is a War on Terror veteran. My grandfather fought with the famous Rainbow Division and was gassed twice in France. He was in the Marines, so I have that common bond with him and my dad. My uncle was in the infantry and landed in the second wave of the Normandy invasion. He was awarded 3 bronze stars, fought all the way to the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded three times.”
Reactions to the library display have ranged from tears to thank-yous to someone calling it “a first-rate display that rivals anything I have ever seen outside of a museum.”
Though the display doesn’t mark the first time the FBCT Library has honored church-related military personnel, this is the first photo display that includes not only church members who served in the military but their veteran family members as well.
In 2004, the library “adopted” a local Army National Guard unit that deployed to Afghanistan, sending care packages, cards, and letters to the soldiers over the course of a year.
A Wall of Freedom display in 2014 turned into a Walls of Freedom project when on the first day a call went out for church members to provide the names of family members in the military, over 500 names were received. All told, over 1,000 names were displayed on every available wall in the library.
In 2018, the library honored 75 veterans who were members of FBCT.
Open to church members, as well as anybody in the community who would like to view it, the FBCT Library’s military photo display will remain on display until the end of December. The library is open to the community on Tuesdays, 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and Wednesday evenings from 4:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.