Thousands of people are expected to visit the Wilson County Fair this week, and retired Marine Staff Sgt. Bill Schorndorf hopes a good portion will visit the World War II Museum located in Fiddlers Grove.
Schorndorf, 79, has volunteered at the museum for six years and said the Wilson County Fair is probably his most enjoyable time in the village.
“I enjoy talking to the kids. I enjoy making them ask questions, but I really enjoy the Fair,” said Schorndorf, who said he enjoys watching and learning from other volunteers and artisans in Fiddlers Grove. “There are a lot of nice people here that volunteer and give their all.”
Schorndorf, a Connecticut native, served 11 years in the Marines from 1958 to 1979, including two tours in Vietnam. He married his wife, Tennessee native Mary, while in the Washington, D.C., area and moved to Tennessee in 2013 to enjoy retirement.
He noticed an advertisement for Wilson County Fair volunteers and reached out to retired Col. Jim Henderson about helping out with the museum.
“I teach about Tennessee and World War II. I teach about World War II and America and the entire world. I’ve talked to groups of kids and the teachers would come up afterwards and say, “I never knew that,’” Schorndorf said. “When I first got here, I knew about the Tennessee maneuvers. I knew a lot about World War II.”
However, Schorndorf said during the first year he helped at the Fair, kids would ask him some questions about Tennessee and World War II and he wouldn’t know the answer, which prompted him to read everything he could about the state’s involvement in World War II.
“Many people don’t know that 351,000 Tennesseans served in World War II. Many don’t know that 5,731 Tennesseans died in World War II,” he said.
The museum features several pieces of memorabilia, mainly from the Army due to its heavy presence in the area during the Tennessee Maneuvers. Items include uniforms, packs, photos, newspaper clippings from World War II, foreign currency and even a tablecloth from Adolf Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden.
Schorndorf brings his reference book that lists divisions of military service, which allows people to know the military division of their ancestors.
“If somebody comes in and says, ‘I’m from Iowa and don’t remember what division my grandfather was in,’ you can go down the list and see what division they were in,” he said. “I like doing that and enjoy filling them in.”
The annual number of visitors to the museum has grown from 400 to about 2,000, according to Schorndorf, noting a lot of traffic comes during the Wilson County Fair.
“I was really surprised at the size and the number of people,” said Schorndorf, who said the only comparable fair he’s ever witnessed was the Maryland State Fair.
“Of course, that was a state fair. This is incredible for a county fair. I’m amazed about the number of rides, food vendors, people, exhibitors and artisans. Everything is done out here during the Fair.”
While residing in Maryland, Schorndorf volunteered at the National Capital Mall Vietnam Veterans Memorial for 10 years. He said he believes he got his volunteer spirit from his mother.
“My mother was big in volunteering. She used to go to the hospital and write letters for the old people. My mom was in her 70s going in there writing letters for the old people, and she would take them masks and comb their hair. Maybe we just had the right gene for that.”