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A story to tell
Dale Nitz understands that everyone, from the youngest Navy ensign to a U.S. Army colonel, has a story. And stories are what his newly opened Veterans Living History Museum strives to tell.
“A tank is a tank is a tank,” Nitz said. “But if that was the tank Audie Murphy stood on and got his Medal of Honor, now it’s not just a tank. It’s something special.”
Sitting outside the museum next to his dog, Waya, Nitz explained how the Veterans Living History Museum at 825 Bay St. came to be.
Nitz, a semi-retired propane delivery driver and Coast Guard veteran, said he bought his first piece of military memorabilia 11 years ago. He intended to resell the cadet gray parade uniform he had purchased on the internet auction store eBay, but the uniform didn’t receive a single bid.
“I didn’t get one bid for it,” he said. “I thought, ‘Something is wrong here.’ ”
Nitz slowly learned more about the uniform and the man who wore it. He discovered the gray helmet, trousers, sword and belt were worn by retired World War II Army Colonel J.W. Lockett. He learned the colonel spent time in a POW camp in Schubin, Poland. He uncovered more about the man’s family history, a trip to China and his experience in the prison camp.
Along with information about the soldier from the Greatest Generation who died in 1990, Nitz also acquired more of the colonel’s belongings. Before too long, Nitz had Lockett’s dress blue uniform, pictures from his graduation at the United States Military Academy at West Point and even history of his Uncle J. Locket, a colonel at Sequia National Park.
Nitz took his collection and information to the West Sound Military Vehicle Preservation Club. He was astounded at the reception the collection received.
“They talked me into showing it,” he said. “It snowballed from there.”
As Nitz’s collection of military memorabilia dating from the Civil War through present day grew, so too did connections among the things he amassed. Nitz discovered J.W. Lockett was in the same prison camp as another man, Medal of Honor recipient Jimmie Kanaya, that Nitz had compiled a collection around.
The more he compiled and the more he researched, the more connections he discovered.
“It’s kind of cool and bizarre,” Nitz said. “It’s almost like I’m led to these things.”
After a showing at the Port of Bremerton, Port Commissioner Larry Stokes encouraged Nitz to open a permanent space to house his wares. Stokes thought the displays and the history could draw quite an audience. It was shortly after Stokes’ recommendation that Nitz found the vacant spot downtown.
Stokes said the museum has turned out better than he could have imagined.
“I think the museum and what he has done is a real asset to the community,” Stokes said. “He is quite an interesting guy.”
Expertly displayed, Nitz now has more memorabilia pieces than he can count, he said. Tuskegee Airman flight jackets rest on mannequins. Pictures of classic movie starlets on USO tours dot the walls. A classic charm bracelet he found at a garage sale hangs on a display.
A duplicate Medal of Honor gifted to him from Medal of Honor recipient and Bremerton resident John “Bud” Hawk is Nitz’s most prized possession, he said.
Sitting in a small, glass case he watches over the duplicate as if he received it himself. He’s also quick to correct those who say Bud Hawk “won” the Medal.
“Remember, you don’t win a Medal of Honor,” he said. “It’s not a contest.”
Over time, Nitz will switch out displays to accommodate his increasing collection. He soon plans to unveil an American Indian War exhibit. But his collection of J.W. Lockett history will always stay in the museum, he said.
“Everyone wants a story,” he said. “It makes it more personal.”