When thanking men and women in uniform for their service, remember that there’s another individual to thank for significant service of a different kind.

Joan McKinney, who was employed at Fort McClellan from 1981-94, has given her time and resources since then to preserve the army base’s history.

After giving a program in February for the Sons of the American Revolution Cheaha Chapter, she was awarded a Challenge Coin in appreciation for the program and for her ongoing research on the fort’s people and missions.

McKinney held the position of public affairs outreach coordinator and director of protocol at the fort, planning social and official occasions and giving tours, among other duties.

She continues to give driving tours upon request. Tours inside buildings are possible with prior notice, she said.

McKinney helps researchers and authors trace down facts from her manifold files. She believes the fort’s rich history deserves an archivist and museum.

"The knowledge of the fort’s impact on our community is not widespread, but it’s a fascinating story," she said.

The written outline she distributed at the February meeting spanned dates from the establishment of Camp McClellan in 1917 to the closure of Fort McClellan in 1999.

She emphasized the German POW camp at McClellan during World War II, recognized as a model camp by the International Red Cross.

The camp, which first received prisoners in 1943, was a community unto itself, McKinney said. The German prisoners had their own orchestra, library, art exhibits, gardens and more.

McKinney’s personal interest is in the POW cemetery, located on a hilltop on Shipley Drive in the vicinity of Sacred Heart School. "It’s the vestige of what’s left during that time," she said.

McKinney gets new information almost weekly. Her contacts include Joachim Metzner of Wolfsburg, Germany, who is the son of Paul Metzner, the editor of the POW newspaper.

McKinney also communicates with Jack Shea of New York, whose book on the fort will hopefully be published in late spring. It is written from the standpoint of a guard. Shea’s father was a sergeant who came to the fort in 1942 to oversee the camp.

And the POW murals? Those are a subject of both history and mystery, McKinney said. In 1945, the murals were painted on plaster on the walls of the Officers’ Club in Remington Hall. They were restored in 1997. The building is now in private hands.

"We found signatures on the paintings," McKinney said. "We know the artists were Albin Sagadin, who had studied at the Dresden Academy of Art, and Herbert Beleau, possibly Sagadin’s assistant."

Yet the feelings that the artists illustrated are hard to understand. "There are theories," McKinney said. "The content could be about man’s struggles against man. Or, man’s complex problems. No one is sure."

Were these artists commissioned? Surely the content had to have been approved before the artists took brushes in hand. "At any rate, the murals are the only type of art of their kind in existence," McKinney said. "They are a national treasure."

To schedule tours of McClellan, call McKinney at 256-454-5542.

Piano students go Hollywood

Playing in a piano recital doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking experience — especially if you can be someone else at the piano.

That’s what 22 young students discovered last Saturday when they performed at Pam Hughes’ spring music recital at Saks Baptist Church.

Each girl and boy became someone else as they played songs from the movies — while wearing costumes as movie characters.

Evidently, John Ross Whaley’s favorite movie is "Rocky." As the 12-year-old played the theme song "Eye of the Tiger," he was "Rocky" in that moment, performing with the dynamics that the prize fighter would use.

The same added drama was true for 9-year-old Kara Watson, who dressed as Snow White to play "Hi-Ho."

Marshall Mayo, age 8, played "The Imperial March" while dressed as Darth Vader from "Star Wars."

There were also performances on a drum and guitars.

Hughes has taught private lessons for 30 years, including instruction at Faith Christian School and Trinity Christian Academy. Her studio is in Alexandria.

Contact Hervey Folsom at herveyfolsom@yahoo.com.