If you travel to 5801 Germantown Avenue, you will find many historical items preserved at the ACES Museum. Battle equipment, military badges, photos and other items decorate the minority veteran museum’s walls.
But there is an even more historical presence within its walls.That presence is Germantown resident, Sgt. Benjamin Melvin Berry.
In 1944, he was in Germany, in combat with Nazis. The 96-year-old army veteran is one of five current survivors of the Battle of the Bulge, the last major battle in World War II.
Berry moved to Germantown more than 70 years ago after returning from war. He settled in the Philadelphia neighborhood after finding there was a slim choice for home rentals in his hometown, Willow Grove, PA. He said it was the best move he ever made.
He started off in trade school for paper hanging. He spent most of the years papering homes in the Northwest neighborhood until retirement. But it wasn’t until Berry picked up The Leader, a former newspaper which focused on Germantown, that he learned about ACES.
He traveled to the museum, received a tour and immediately felt at home. He said he couldn’t believe it was real.
“It was such a well-kept secret,” Berry said. “I did my best after joining, to try to spread the word so others know, this is something that needs to be preserved and kept here.”
In fact, Berry’s role with the ACES museum is to educate communities about the historical museum and it’s programs.
Berry said it is common for veterans to return from war and have little support or benefits from other organizations. He said it is crucial for the building to be preserved and shared with the entire community
“Not only the veterans to know, but the community at large to know this was here,” Berry said, “and how long it’s been here, and how much we need to expand.”
Expanding ACES is top priority for Berry and other members. Before ACES was a museum, it was once a United Service Organization specifically for minorities in the service.
Soldiers could attend white USO’s for entertainment, nightlife and various arts, but Berry remembers soldiers of color had different experiences with traditional USO’s.
“We could go . . . there you would be given coffee, cigarettes maybe,” Berry said. “(B)ut far as being entertained, very few, entertained the minorities.”
Present day ACES was once a sanctuary for soldiers of color, and Berry and other ACES members are looking to reopen that sanctuary by restoring the second and third floor of Parker Hall.
They are currently conducting a Wall of Honor Brick fundraiser to raise the funds needed.
But restoring the second and third floor is more than a project. It will allow ACES to expand, and eventually help more veterans who have struggled since returning from a conflict. Berry said support is their main focus.
“Give them hope,” Berry said, “let them know they have a friend here at the ACES museum.”