Walls display testimony of military service

Hundreds of military awards, decorations, and insignias hug the walls of Temple’s William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home. Together, they’re known as the Hall of Heroes Memorial Museum, a curated testament to the countless hours of service, sacrifice, and achievement marked in American military history.

While the exhibit has decked the Veterans Home’s walls for nearly seven years, it represents a life’s work of curating for retired Army and Navy serviceman J. C. Fischer, who began his patriotic collection as a teenager in the 1950s.

“After the Korean War, the men returning from Korea would come into the reception station at Fort Sam, where my father worked,” recalls J. C. “Their unit insignias were no longer needed, so they’d have to take them off and throw them away.”

Drawn to the insignias’ intricate designs, J. C. fished a few out of the garbage to take home and study. With the aid of a library book, he learned that each emblem symbolized the history of the unit and when it came into being. “Some of the units date back to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Indian Wars,” J. C. explains. “I found it fascinating.”

His collection grew steadily throughout his own time in the military and burgeoned when it took up residence at the Texas State Veterans Home in Temple. Today, the museum boasts 1,900 different Distinctive Unit Insignias, about 1,000 different military medals, and more than 50 historical pictures and military documents dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, all donations to J. C.’s collection. It’s worth mentioning that the collection lacks only 20 to 25 distinct medals, including the Aztec Medal from 1847 and the Mexican War Veteran’s Badge from 1846.

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Many of the medals were awarded to military women, and two of the museum’s awards were named on the back for women, an honor reserved for many of the highest level of recognition. One of those medals was given to a woman with whom J. C. served in Vietnam.

“A corner bunker got knocked down by a B-40 round, killing two or three men,” says J. C. as he tells the story behind the medal. “With her bare hands, she took that damaged barrel out of the machine gun, put a new barrel in it, and put it back in operation on its tripod. Then she sat in the corner and waited until she got help.”

J. C. explains that “there’s a special medal for every war we’ve had, and each branch of service has its own distinct medal for bravery and service. A lot of American people still don’t know what a serviceman does in the military, and they don’t know how a serviceman is rewarded. They know about the Purple Heart, but a lot of lesser medals that men and women get are not televised. . . . If anyone cares to see them, I’ve got almost all of the possible medals on display.”

Call 254-791-0036 in advance to schedule your free tour of the Hall of Heroes Memorial Museum at the William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home. Hours are 9 AM–4 PM, and directions are available at www.glo.texas.gov.

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