Ohio County Public Library’s World War II Exhibit Opening Draws Many

WHEELING — WWII enthusiasts and others flocked Saturday to the Ohio County Public Library to see local and regional artifacts and memorabilia featured in a new “We Can Do It! WWII” traveling exhibit.

Coinciding with the Memorial Day weekend, an afternoon celebration was held to open the traveling exhibit from the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. The exhibit is on display on the library’s main floor through July 24.

The library is one of 15 organizations — and the only site in West Virginia — selected to host the exhibit over a three-year period. Large displays and memorabilia from Western Pennsylvania form the core element, supplemented by Wheeling-related artifacts from the World War II era.

Area pieces include the military uniform of the late Dr. Howard Brettell, of Steubenville. The major landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and served as a front-line surgeon with the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group in the African, Sicilian and European campaigns. His daughter, Susan Haddad, of Wheeling, provided the uniform for the display.

Barbara Lewine, of Wheeling, provided photographs of her father, the late Dr. Robert Lewine, and a pair of boots that a liberating soldier gave to a shoeless camp survivor.

Keynote speaker Robert Stakeley, affiliate program coordinator for the Heinz History Center, urged area residents to be curious, ask questions and gather war-time stories from their communities.

“Keep those stories alive,” he said.

Stakeley, a social historian, said the traveling exhibit shows the sacrifice, teamwork and “We Can Do It!” spirit that manifested on battlefields and on the home front during the war. Citing examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary acts, he said, “They do what they never thought they’d be able to do. They achieve the impossible.”

War-time efforts of tri-state industries resulted in the region being called “the arsenal of democracy,” Stakeley said.

Stakeley praised the extensive lineup of programming planned to complement the exhibit. He said the Heinz History Center will use the Ohio County Public Library’s programming as a model for other sites that will host the “We Can Do It! WWII” display.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott observed that people study history to learn about the past and “to help us answer some of the larger questions of our current time.”

Elliott said the World War II exhibit illustrates “the sense we all had that we are in this together.”

Library archivist Laura Carroll shared some of the local stories that complement those in the exhibit’s main component. Erin Rothenbuehler, the library’s head of programming, explained online elements that are being offered to coincide with the exhibit.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were Alyssa Bruno, who sang and portrayed “Rosie the Riveter;” piper Betsy Bethel-McFarland, of Martins Ferry; and the color guard from American Legion Post 1 in Wheeling.

The traveling exhibit can be viewed, free of charge, during the library’s regular hours of operation.

The library’s free programming for “We Can Do It! WWII” includes a new People’s University course on World War II, three related Lunch With Books sessions, a Flag Day celebration at noon on June 14, screening of a documentary film “The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter” at 7 p.m. June 25 and a special program by Holocaust survivor Cantor Wisnia at 7 p.m. July 12.

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