“From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered –

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother …” – William Shakespeare,

“Henry V”

About 16.1 million American troops served in World War II, and about 407,000 of those brave patriots died during that most widespread war in history.

Such facts are the result of a quick search on the internet.

But statistics alone can never allow us to understand the full measure of devotion or sacrifice made by the countless men and women in uniform who saved the world from tyranny more than 70 years ago.

On the upper floor of the Yoakum Heritage Museum stands a highly personal exhibit that allows us to see close-up the precise meaning of patriotism.

These men and women – all 675 of whom are linked to Yoakum – are forever frozen in time in their youth in uniform and in black-and-white photographs that have amazingly survived the decades.

“I find myself overwhelmed particularly when I see the reactions of many who have attended the collection,” said Laura Henson, executive director of the Yoakum Heritage Museum. “People are mesmerized … because it brings such a horrific reality as well as such personal recollection to so many who have witnessed these young faces that were so willing to make such sacrifices.”

The exhibit, “A Beautiful Salute to Yoakum’s Own WWII Military Heroes,” is on display until July 28.

Many museum visitors have recognized former friends and neighbors in the photographs; some have quietly wept, overcome by the emotion and memories of a bygone era.

And most, Henson said, wish they had come to the exhibit sooner.

The collection exists because of William Browning, who owned W.T. Browning and Co., a men’s clothing store in Yoakum, during World War II. He sent letters to the local servicemen and servicewomen whose addresses he knew. He asked their families to send photographs of them for a display at his business. When the store closed in 1954, the large glass cases featuring 800 photographs were moved to the American Legion, then to the library and finally to the museum, now located in what was once the Browning home.

“We decided to have the exhibit because this is such a treasure trove of pictures, and just such a fabulous find,” Henson said. “The official information done by the Browning Store – there is no way we could later have been able to get all of that information on that many people in the service.”

In his day, Browning honored his neighbors by displaying the small portraits, but his effort will transcend time. His act captures a moment in history that will teach generations to come about what was undeniably the greatest generation.

Fortunately, these photographs are in good hands under the care of Henson and the volunteers at the Yoakum Heritage Museum.

After the display is dismantled, the pictures will be carefully preserved for posterity and for future displays. Many will remain in the museum’s Military Room.

“This will be part of our permanent display,” Henson said, “because this doesn’t need to be put away in a closet.”

These brave residents – and their photographs – are too valuable to ever be forgotten.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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