MIAMI COUNTY — Throughout the 2018 Miami County Fair, representatives of the Miami Valley Veterans Museum have invited veterans to sign their name and military history on a unique veterans memorial trailer, which has been on display at the fairgrounds throughout the week.
Museum Vice President David Gawronski described the origins of the trailer, which was started by Vietnam veteran and Springfield native John Helton in 2009.
“John was a Vietnam vet,” Gawronski said. “He just saw the trailer in a field, and had a vision. It started out with just a few boards on it. He and a few of his buddies signed it. His father was a World War II vet and he signed it. After that, it was like a light bulb went on, and he added more boards.”
Helton spent the next two years transporting the trailer to special events and locations throughout the Miami Valley, collecting signatures of veterans from every branch of the Armed Forces.
“He would take it to the V.A. and Amvets regularly to get it signed,” Gawronski said. “He took it to Sidney to the mobile Vietnam wall, and he filled up the trailer there. After that, they decided to keep making boards.”
As Helton collected signatures, it became his dream to show the trailer at parades. Helton passed away in 2011, roughly a month before the first scheduled parade. Though Helton’s family attempted to maintain the trailer for the next few years, financial woes led them to contacting the staff at Miami Valley Veterans Museum.
“It was just sitting under a canopy getting dirty,” Gawronski said. “They called me, because I’d known them for quite a long time and I had a lot of love and respect for John. I said, ‘It belongs in a museum. It’s always belonged in a museum.’
“This is what we’re about. What better way for a veterans museum to honor so many names that have sacrificed and served? I always wanted in the museum some way to have a lot of signatures of the veterans that come and visit us, so they’d be there forever. Grandkids and people could visit for decades to come and say, ‘Look, that was father or my grandfather.’ These could be some of people’s final signatures, particularly the World War II and Korean veterans.”
The exact number of signatures has not been tallied, but Gawronski indicates the roster is easily into the thousands.
“We’ve not had a chance to stop and count them all,” Gawronski said. “I’ve got many more boards full of names at home. Once we have time, I’d love to eventually know how many we’ve got.”
With the fair continuing through Thursday, and Wednesday serving as Armed Forces Day at the fairgrounds, the museum staff hope many more veterans will come out to sign the trailer.
“On Veterans Day, we anticipate getting a lot more signatures,” Gawronski exclaimed.
Due to its second floor location, the staff will be unable to feature the trailer at the veterans museum, however Gawronski indicated that tentative efforts to re-locate the museum in the near future could allow space for the trailer to become a prominent fixture.
“It’s going to travel around,” Gawronski said. “It’ll go to various veteran events, and it’ll be a main focus when we get into our own large building. It should be right at the front door, when you walk in, with all the extra boards mounted on the walls.
“Each name has a story. John Helton met everybody who signed the trailer, he heard the stories, and now it’s my turn to hear the stories. That’s what the museum is about. We have their stuff, we have their names, we have their stories. It never dies.”
For more information, visit www.miamivalleyveteransmuseum.com.