UPDATE: March 3, 2023 at 12:28 pm CST
***The World War II Artifact Donation Ceremony scheduled for 2 p.m., March 3, 2023, at Cheaha State Park has been canceled due to severe weather. The event will be rescheduled for a future date.***
A piece of World War II and Cheaha Mountain history will soon be on display at Cheaha State Park near Delta, Alabama.
Earlene and Curtis Collette of Talladega County will donate a machine gun that was recovered from the base of Cheaha Mountain after a World War II era P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft crashed into Bald Rock in 1944. The artifact will be displayed at Cheaha State Park’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) museum.
The event will begin at 2 p.m. with an introduction and reception at the Cheaha State Park’s Vista Event Center followed by a dedication ceremony at the CCC museum. The public and media are invited to attend.
“We are grateful to the Collette family for entrusting Cheaha State Park with this piece of World War II and Alabama history,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “Alabama State Parks has long honored our country’s veterans and active military personnel. Cheaha’s CCC museum is a fitting home for this unique artifact.”
On January 4, 1944, Second Lt. Chester R. Gunkel, 24, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was flying the P-38 Lightning from Love Field in Texas, to Atlanta, Georgia. Something went wrong during the flight and he tragically lost his life in the crash.
The following day, Earlene’s two teenage brothers, who would also serve in the military, recovered one of the plane's four machine guns. Seventy years later, Earlene and Curtis Collette (a 90-year-old veteran himself) are donating the artifact in honor of the young soldier who gave his life in service to his country.
For more information about Cheaha State Park, including CCC museum hours, visit www.alapark.com/parks/cheaha-state-park or call (256) 488-5115.
ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.