For generations, Lee County, Kentucky, has had strong ties to the military. That history is preserved at the Three Forks Historical Center and with the Lee County Memorial Wall in Beattyville.
“Growing up, you were expected to serve in the military,” says Bob Smith, curator of the Three Forks Historical Center. “That was just one of the expectations as young males growing up in this county.”
Smith says that Lee County residents have been involved in “practically every scrap” that the U.S. has been involved in since the county was first established by settlers moving westward from Virginia.
“I got started building this museum back in the early 1990s,” says Smith. “Before the state’s bicentennial we were looking for a historical project. And because we had such a deep, rich, military history, we decided to focus on that.”
The collection at Three Forks includes seven different presidential signatures on various documents. A display of uniforms chronicles wars including World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Smith continually adds to the collection.
“I keep telling folks locally, bring your war souvenirs here so that they’ll be taken care of in this place,” he says. “Too many of these things go to the pawn shops and that is a shame because these men deserve better than that. They deserve to be remembered. Their stories deserve to be told. Too many of us are forgetting the sacrifices that they made. They gave their tomorrow so that we could have today.”
The Lee County Memorial Wall lists the names of members of the military from the region going back to the Civil War and up to the present day.
“There is a high concentration of local kids who are serving in the military now who are over in the Middle East and Afghanistan,” says Smith. “Our last casualty was Sgt. Glenn Bowling. He was killed on April Fool’s day in the Iraq war. His was the last name that was carved on our memorials. I surely hope that he will be the last, but I’m just as sure as I’m sitting here there will be others.”
Smith hopes that the historical center and the memorial will highlight the importance of service and inspire locals to give back to their country. “I tell the kids who come in here, you can live in a community all your life but you’re never a part of that community until you give something of yourself back to it,” he says. “Go into volunteer fire departments or rescue, whatever. Just get involved and make a difference.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2306, which originally aired on November 11, 2017. Watch the full episode.