WWI history focus of history project

Senior history major Dakota Mullins understands the importance of local history and that’s what lead him to the idea for his senior project.

“I was approached by Dr. (Jennifer) Murray last semester to do a project or internship with the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap,” Clintwood, Va. native Mullins said. “The idea was to do an exhibit to be placed in the library and the topic was completely up to me and what I had available to work with” said Mullins. Mullins credited Murray in helping get the exhibit on the UVa-Wise campus.

The exhibit, titled ‘Valiant Virginians: Servicemen in World War I’ is now available for viewing in the UVa-Wise campus library.

The exhibit was unveiled with a special ceremony on March 16. Students and professors from the history department came to celebrate the opening of the exhibit.

The idea for Mullins’ project was inspired by the World War I centennial. Mullins said, “Where it’s the Southwest Virginia Museum it kind of allowed me to focus on something a little bit more personal to the region.”

All the artifacts in the exhibit are from the Southwest Virginia Museum. One of Mullins’ favorite parts of the project was getting to see and hold the artifacts from World War I that are now 100 years old.

“As a history major, I was enthused. I guess that’s an understatement,” said Mullins. “Just to see the significance they played in these events. One of the items on exhibit is a trench knife that could have been used in combat. Knowing that it was used is exciting.”

Throughout his project, Mullins spoke with two families of the World War I soldiers.

He spoke often with the grandson of Rhea Mullins and learned a lot about Rhea throughout their discussions. Rhea was born in Letcher County and spent his life in the Big Stone Gap before and after World War I.

Little is known about the other soldier from the exhibit because he had no living descendants at the time Mullins completed his senior project. The artifacts from this soldier were donated in the 1950s.

“Being from this region, it’s important to me because since these men were from around here as well, they each took part in something grand, such as World War I,” Mullins said.

“In the exhibit, you’ll notice that each one participated not in the same service. One was an airplane mechanic, one was in a tank cohort and one was an infantry man. With airplanes and tanks, that was revolutionary in their own right, being the first one to combat.”

“I think it was pretty neat that you can get out of this area and do something that matters.” Mullins said.

The ‘Valiant Virginians: Servicemen in World War I’ exhibit is open to students and the public every Friday 2-4 p.m. until July 31. The exhibit is located on the second floor of the library in the Special Collections room. Library staff will help visitors  to the exhibit location.

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