Honoring veterans in a unique way
When you walk into the dining room at American Legion Post 60 in Berkeley Springs, you can’t help but notice the wall behind the bar is completely covered with 8 x 10 framed reproductions of military unit insignias.
In fact, there are so many framed insignias that they wrap around to the wall on the right of the bar.
At first glance, the artwork is so intricate you might think these are photographic reproductions. But on closer inspection, it is evident these colorful insignias have been painstakingly handcrafted and painted.
Ed Middlekauff, a World War II veteran and American Legion member for the past 65 years, is the artist responsible for this beautiful collection of military art honoring local veterans.
As Middlekauff tells it, about 20 years ago he and a group of other Legionnaires were trying to come up with a way to honor Post 60 veterans by displaying their unit or group emblems and insignias.
Some of the ideas tossed around were a quilt of insignias or wooden replicas, but both ideas seemed unwieldy. Middlekauff suggested painting and framing the insignias.
“I have always had painting as a hobby and have a marked interest in painting, so it was a natural step for me to do something like this,” Middlekauff said.
To date, 111 painted insignias of military units from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and other war and peacetime eras hang on the walls of the American Legion, and more are on the way, Middlekauff said.
The insignias are all done with acrylic paint on illustration board and framed in black 8 x 10 glass picture frames.
“I started off with a small section of the wall and 16 – 18 paintings. It wasn’t long until the back wall was filled and we turned the corner,” Middlekauff said.
Of course Middlekauff, who turned 88 this year, is understating the obvious. The wall of framed and hand painted insignias is a testament to his 20 years of hard work honoring local veterans and their units.
Each one has a story
Middlekauff said many of the insignias are created from shoulder patches worn on the uniforms of servicemen. But sometimes he has to create the insignias from buttons, pins or emblems no bigger than the size of a quarter.
“Every one of these insignias has a story,” Middlekauff explains.
One lady who wanted him to paint her unit’s insignia was a U.S. Navy Wave. She didn’t have anything to give him other than a uniform shirt with a small emblem on the collar. It took some time, but Middlekauff was able to recreate the insignia for the wall where it hangs today.
The process begins by enlarging the emblem or insignia by sketching a bigger version in pencil on an 8 x 10 illustration board. Middlekauff then decides what colors best represent the insignia before painting the sketch with a brush by hand.
He remembers one of the first insignias he painted was for Lewis Buzzerd, a World War I veteran of the 80th Infantry Division and owner and long time editor of The Morgan Messenger.
“We have some very unusual insignias that you don’t see every day,” Middlekauff said.
For example, he shows a drawing of a patch worn by members of a small military weather unit stationed in Washington, D.C. during WWII. The patch has a 3 cup rotary wind collector as its main symbol.
Another insignia has the letters GHQ in yellow written diagonally across a blue flag on an Army green background. Middlekauff said the insignia was that of General Douglas McArthur’s headquarters staff and belonged to James Curtin, one of McArthur’s drivers.
Often people from out of town come into Post 60 and are able to find their former military unit’s insignia on the wall, Middlekauff said.
Another example of Middlekauff’s dedication to the American Legion and veteran’s affairs is the World War II Memorial that sits at the east end of the Fairfax Street square in Berkeley Springs.
Middlekauff designed the monument and fought long and hard to procure the funding for the memorial.
The memorial contains the names of every Morgan County resident who served in World War II. The memorial was unveiled and dedicated on Veterans Day, 2007.
During World War II, Middlekauff served with the 104th Rifle Regiment of the 26th Infantry, Yankee Division, attached to General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army.
He landed in Cherbourg, France shortly after D-Day and marched with Patton’s army until the end of the war.
“We thought the world of Patton,” Middlekauff said. “He told us the only way he could get us boys home was to keep killing Germans.”
Middlekauff was wounded twice in combat and was part of the 3rd Army’s push to break the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Budge.
During basic training Middlekauff was the best marksman in his company and was asked by the base commander to volunteer as a sniper.
“I grew up on a farm and was a hunter and it was nice to be recognized for my shooting ability,” Middlekauff said.
By the time he arrived in France, Middlekauff was given command of a squad of 12 soldiers and had no time to be away from the squad as a sniper. Only 19 years old, he was eventually promoted to sergeant of a platoon of 30 soldiers.
Originally from Hagerstown where he worked before and after the war for Fairchild Aircraft, Middlekauff moved to Morgan County in 1950. He and his wife Pat have two children, daughter Jan and son Tom.
“It has been rewarding to me just to meet and talk to people who served in all these outfits,” Middlekauff said while reflecting on all the insignias he has painted and displayed on American Legion Post 60’s walls over the years.