By Josette Keelor
Stephens City resident Phil Fravel is hoping a lot of veterans will visit his World War II D-Day exhibit this weekend.
The exhibit, "Relive History: The D-Day Invasion," will include displays of artifacts from WWII, a recreated barracks wall and mannequins wearing uniforms. it will be open Friday, the 70th anniversary of the day American troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, through Sunday. Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at the former Sandy's Implement Service building that Fravel owns at 811 Fairfax Pike in Stephens City.
Fravel, a Clemson University professor who previously taught agriculture at Straburg High School for 15 years, has planned for a big turnout but said he will be hard pressed to top the D-Day exhibit of five years ago that took place at the Strasburg Museum.
"The ladies that worked there had mentioned that that was their largest event," Fravel said. "The word was out there, but we were really overtaken by the number of veterans at that time. A number were from this area."
Strasburg Museum President Gloria Stickley remembers the 65th anniversary exhibit.
"It was fabulous, it really was," she said. Admission to the museum was free that day, so she didn't keep count, but "I would guess it was close to 500 or 600 people, maybe more."
"It's really an interesting exhibit and Phil has worked for years collecting all of that equipment," Stickley said.
Asked if he might replicate such numbers this year, Fravel said he can't be sure, but "everyone tells me so."
It's an important anniversary, said Historical Society Executive Director Cissy Shull, chairperson of the exhibit, and "there's still a few WWII veterans here in Winchester."
However, the event could see less participation this time if only because it's happening five years later.
"I do know, there [were] 35 men from Winchester and Frederick County that served in Normandy, and all of them are deceased," Shull said.
"That's one of the things we'd like to do on Saturday, is read the list of names of the soldiers."
As for Fravel, "The thing that I'd love to see is a number of veterans, WWII and otherwise, to attend."
The exhibit will include WWII artifacts mostly from Fravel's private collection, such as military equipment, items from the Civilian Conservation Corps and clothing.
On Saturday and Sunday, WWII re-enactors will provide a living historical interpretation.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Rebecca Ebert of the Handley Regional Library will speak on the library's oral history project, which collects interviews from area veterans.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, Adrian O'Connor will speak about local soldiers who fought at Normandy.
Jeeps will be equipped for combat and a table of items will give visitors "the feel for the equipment and the daily life [of a solider]," Fravel said.
"Everything is real, everything is depicted as if they used it," he said. "It is hands on."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org