BY HOPE HARRINGTON OAKES
The Columbus War Musuem concept actually started for Steens resident Wayne White when he was a child. But he never realized it until much later in life. When White was 11-years old, he and his family were living in Altus, Okla., while his father was serving in Vietnam.
“It was seven blocks to school and I had this bully who liked to whip my butt, so I found an alleyway to avoid him,” White said. “Just a couple of houses away, someone had thrown away some model tanks, planes, and ships. I ran them home, and then each day, I would bring something home from the alleyway. I built a fort to hold them all.”
His friends, both girls and boys, enjoyed going to the fort to look at the items he collected. He grew up, married and had children, all while traveling, and he ended up in Columbus in the late seventies.
In 1982 he and his wife, Ginger, left Columbus with their children for a well-paying job in Sumter, South Carolina. On the way, they broke down and White said he didn’t get there in time to get the job. He said he was assured, though, that if he applied every available day (which was Monday through Thursday) he would stand a great chance to get one.
Across from the trailer they were renting was a huge flea market. White said he told Ginger to take their daughter, Michelle, to the flea market while he and their son, Donald, went to the dumpsters in that town, and for six weeks, until he got the job he wanted, White and his family made a living selling other people’s discards. One day, White came across pictures of a WWII veteran and his wife in a leather-bound jacket.
“My dad’s a Korean War Veteran and a Vietnam War Veteran,” White said. “I don’t know why anyone would throw that away, so I kept it.”
Decades later, the Whites moved back home to Columbus and he went to work for Weyerhaeuser. White eventually got a job on Columbus Air Force Base.
One fateful day, planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
“That evening, my heart melted, and I listened to President George Bush say if everyone would do just one thing,” White said. “So what I did that evening, wiping tears from my eyes, I went and got these pictures and carried them to my office on Columbus Air Force Base. Every day, I’d come in and salute him, and I’d say ‘You’re on a military base. You are not in a dumpster, Sir.”
A First Home
White said he also does sculpture work. He contacted Dennis Fair, a local store owner, and asked for his help. With this help, Wayne opened up his museum, The Aviation Stop, next to Sonic on Hwy. 45. N. He set up his displays and included the leather-bound double photos he kept in his office. The museum only lasted in that location for five months, due to a few unforeseen problems. He then moved to the other side of Sonic. White said lady who’d started working there noticed the pictures of the couple and asked how Wayne obtained the picture. He told her the story of how he’d fished it out of that dumpster 23 years earlier, and it has been a daily reminder of sacrifice ever since 9/11. That’s when she told him that the couple were actually from a very prominent Columbus family, Mr. & Mrs. George S. Hazard. White said she told him the couple had passed away, but their son, George Hazard, Jr., was still living in Columbus.
“On the 23rd of April, 2005, Mr. George Hazard, Jr. held the picture of his mother and his father that I found in a dumpster in Sumter, South Carolina 23 years earlier,” White said.
The Permanent Display
When the museum closed again, White asked then-Chief of Police J.D.Sanders if he could build a museum in building. Sanders agreed and The Columbus War Museum was born. The museum is filled with military memorabilia from every U.S. war since World War I. It is holds uniforms, shells, cards, letters, medals, first-person accounts of different historic battles and many photos. White proudly displayed a Vietnamese flag donated by the family of a soldier who picked it up after a skirmish.
White said the museum receives donations frequently. One recent donation that White recalls was from a World War II veteran who’d bought two plots at Friendship Cemetery years ago. When he and his wife moved to Florida to be near their children and their families, they decided to donate their plots to another veteran. The family asked for Wayne’s help to find some deserving veteran and spouse to benefit from it, which they are in the process of doing.
Many people, including veterans, have made it a point to personally thank White for his hard work and dedication to the Columbus War Museum. White said The Columbus War Museum owes a debt to many people and companies for their contributions. He said he is thankful that should something happen to him, the museum will continue on with the generous support of the community. White said he believes it’s very important that we continue to honor the lives and sacrifices of these remarkable people that have protected our country.
“We speak English for a reason,” White said. We need to understand that freedom is not free — lest we forget.”
The Columbus War Museum is located inside the Columbus Municipal Complex at 1501 Main Street, Columbus, MS.0