Saturday, December 2, 2023

Military Exhibit Encourages Touch and Feel

Karen Knight
Jack Deignan and John Altieri, members of the VFW Post 386 Veterans Home Association, unroll a replica of a poster used pre-World War I, which will be framed and become part of an interactive exhibit of military items at the Post. Colorful posters like this one were used to attract people to enlist.

By Karen Knight

CAPE MAY – A new “conversation piece” has taken shape at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 386, in Cape May, in the form of an interactive wall display of items worn and used by U.S. military members.

The brainchild of Jack Deignan, of Cape May, who is a member of the Veterans Home Association, the display sits in a section of the clubhouse and includes posters, authentic and used hats, ties, gloves, socks, belts, pistols and ammunition holders and small field bags used from all military conflicts. Some items, such as hats, are mounted on the wall, while other items, such as full and partial uniforms, are interchangeably displayed, and visitors are encouraged to touch and feel.

“I wanted people to feel the history, touch the fabric, recall the memories and ask questions,” Deignan said.

Jack Deignan points out the inside placement of a button on the wool military uniform, which is part of a display of military items at the VFW Post 386 in Cape May. The button was placed inside so not to conflict with a belt worn by military personnel in the uniform. The display encourages visitors to touch the fabric, feel the history, recall memories and ask questions. Photo Credit: Karen Knight

Although various members of his and his wife’s family served during World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Deignan did not serve in the military and is quick to stress that the display is “not about him, but about the veterans who served, who wore the wool uniforms, who have the stories.

“I have always enjoyed collecting and arranging displays, and I felt this would be an opportunity for me to use these skills to provide a thank you for the privilege of my membership in the VFW Home Association and my acceptance from veterans into their VFW community.”

He owned numerous businesses over more than 40 years, and prior to the pandemic had been formulating a design for an interactive, three-dimensional wall display of items used by veterans in military service. Many items he acquired from sales, but others have been donated by those who served in the military and their families.

Deignan also taught history, so his love of the topic is a natural for hearing the stories of those who served and see an item, remembering its significance to him or her.

“We have some posters from early World War I and World War II, and look at these posters, so colorful,” he pointed out. “They were very creative and caught your eye back then. You don’t see many posters today, but they were important to help prepare for the war, and during the war.”

John Altieri, of Cape May, serves as president of the Veterans Home Association and has worked with Deignan on some aspects of the display. He’s framed many of the war-time posters, and learned more about the military history behind many of the exhibit’s items.

Both men pointed out various caps and helmets worn by the military, and described how they evolved through each of the wars, providing better protection against weather and artillery. Wool uniforms were worn for the most part, and style elements always served a purpose. Both men said they have learned more about the history of the men and women serving and the conditions under which they served through the items donated and displayed.

John Altieri, president of the VFW Post 386 Veterans Home Association, has helped frame posters used as part of an interactive display of military items. He checks out some of the hats and describes how some of them evolved through the years for better protection against weather and artillery. Photo Credit: Karen Knight

“When a vet sees a uniform they wore, or one of the hats they wore, there is a story behind it,” Altieri said. “It’s a conversation piece where people can engage and touch and feel history.”

The exhibit is open to members of the VFW Post, auxiliary and home association and their guests. Anyone interested in donating items should contact Deignan at 609-898-9898 or to make arrangements.

Contact the author, Karen Knight, at


Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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