Finding more space for military museum

A dozen war veterans were sipping coffee and talking at tables when I entered the Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum at Richard's Coffee Shop one morning last week.

The oldest was Rod MacFarquhar, 86, who fought in World War II and Korea.

The youngest was Anne-Marie Pumphrey, 27, who served with the N.C. National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, from 2006-2008.

Pumphrey lives in Mount Ulla and volunteers at the shop, which serves as a home away from home for veterans of all U.S. wars. Its walls are covered with uniforms, plaques, letters, helmets and other military mementoes.

In fact, the shop is out of room to display its collection, which prompted its all-volunteer board of directors to embark this summer on a $500,000 capital campaign to move to a former art gallery space a couple of blocks away, at 165 N. Main St.

The space is four times the size of the current location and will enable the nonprofit Welcome Home Veterans to expand its outreach programs for veterans and educational efforts with schoolchildren, said John Hedley of Denver.

Hedley, 66, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served 24 years, including in Vietnam, was an executive for defense contractor Raytheon Co. for 18 years and is president of the Welcome Home Veterans board.

The new space has large glass windows and a large display area in front, perfect for catching the attention of passers-by, Hedley said during a tour of the building.

In the spacious interior, veterans and visitors could relax and converse. It has a full-size kitchen and room to display more military mementoes and accommodate representatives of military organizations including the USO, Blue and Gold Star Mothers, the American Red Cross and local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters, Hedley said.

Hedley said the group has a contract to buy the property from Aquesta Bank for $390,000 and hopes to close on Veteran's Day this year. He said the campaign also would pay for $40,000-$60,000 in repairs to the roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

Local Chapter 15-2 of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association has donated $10,000. Horsefeathers Roadhouse restaurant in Sherrills Ford and 150 N Out Billiards and Darts in Mooresville plan fundraisers.

The new space also has emotional value: It's right across Main Street from the original Pat's Coffee Shop, opened about 15 years ago by Richard Warren, who flew a Huey C gunship - a helicopter - in Vietnam and greeted every veteran who entered his shop with "Welcome home."

Warren lived directly behind the new space in a since-razed home on Church Street. He died in 2009 of complications believed to be from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Hedley said.

Hedley said the campaign has special meaning for him, too. Through their conversations, he and Warren discovered that Warren may have provided fire support to Hedley and his soldiers.

Hedley attended the dedication of Warren's restored helicopter July 30 at the War Hawk Air Museum in Idaho. He returned from that event and a reunion of Hedley's reconnaissance platoon in New Mexico this summer with $10,500 in donations.

He said he and his troops may owe their lives to Warren.

"Because of this very personal debt, I am determined that we will be successful in this current mission and thus preserve Richard's legacy for all veterans in our area," Hedley wrote in a letter to potential corporate donors.