The Depot

Why You Should Plan a Military Museum Visit

Cannons and tanks in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Military museums are without a doubt one of the best places to visit if you’re a military history buff. If you’re a history buff who is a parent to school-age children, the value of visiting a museum is compounded significantly because of the lessons that can be imparted on children.

One of the best things about visiting a military museum is that they offer enormous amounts of information in a multitude of ways. A visitor can read about a particular battle and peruse pictures on a display, but if that same visitor takes a few steps they are then looking at artifacts and items from that battle that they were just reading about. A few more steps might take the visitor to a screen where a video is being played showing actual footage from the battlefield. Add some headsets from a walking tour and it is easy to get immersed into the subject.

A few years ago, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History had an incredible exhibit that covered all wars of the United States. Some of the items on display were George Washington’s sword, scabbard and uniform, the chairs that U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee sat in to discuss the terms of surrender at the end of the Civil War, sections of the Berlin Wall, and a Huey helicopter that flew in Vietnam, just to name a few.

Displays like the Smithsonian’s bring history to life, even though the items they display are inanimate, the objects displayed were present in some of the nation’s greatest and most historical moments and somehow manage to personify those who owned them or used them. Standing several feet from the uniform of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower makes a visitor feel like they are standing next to the great man who helped win World War II.

But in order to have a great experience, most people do not need to travel far to visit a military museum. Granted Washington, D.C. has many military museums and it is surrounded by Civil War battlegrounds and most have small museums with a wealth of information and artifacts. A visitor can also walk the actual battlefields, like Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, just a short drive from D.C., and get an incredible dose of American Civil War history by walking the battlegrounds. The hills, the trees, and the boulders were all there when blood was shed.

The service branches each have their own military museums. The Army’s is located in Virginia, the Air Force’s is located in Ohio, the Navy’s is in Washington, D.C., the Marines have theirs in Virginia and the Coast Guard and Space Force do not yet have one. Veterans of a specific service can increase their branch’s cultural knowledge by visiting one of these military museums. In addition to these wonderful service-specific national military museums, many states have their own military museums that are incredibly educational and fun to visit.

For example, the Texas Military Forces Museum in Austin, Texas is located at Camp Mabry which is headquarters for the Texas National Guard. The military museum has an incredible assortment of military hardware on display. Outside of the museum, there are rows or trucks, jeeps, tanks, personnel carriers and a variety of vehicles and artillery that are sure to stir fond memories for any veteran.

Inside the museum the items on display take visitors back to 1823 offering a glimpse into military forces in the state of Texas. The military relics date back but include items from more recent wars, like the war against terrorism. There are incredible dioramas to look at and kids and adults alike can don military helmets, flak vests and web gear. There is even an F-16 Fighting Falcon cockpit that is available for visitors to crawl into and explore.

However, one of the best exhibits of the Texas Military Forces Museum is their World War II battle reenactment, Close Assault, where museum historians and community history buffs conduct an assault on a German position. The event includes a lot of gunfire, explosions, World War II armored vehicles and the highlight, an actual, operational Sherman tank from the museum’s inventory that is usually on display. Spoiler alert. The U.S. military wins the battle. After the fight, visitors can interact with the “German” and American reenactment soldiers and ask them questions as they linger around their encampment. The event happens on Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day and at Camp Mabry’s open house normally held in April.

A little more than an hour away from Camp Mabry in Fredericksburg, Texas is the National Museum of the Pacific War which is an incredible museum offering visitors insight into the war in the Pacific theater. They also offer an amazing reenactment of a World War II battle that is entertaining, but extraordinarily educational.

Their historical displays cover the various major engagements of the war in the pacific. There is a submarine inside, part of a life preserver worn by President H.W. Bush when he was shot down in the Pacific Ocean and one of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous corn cob pipes.

Many states have National Guard military museums that are accessible to the public. Many are free and accept donations, while others might charge an admission fee.

Military museums are educational, but they also honor those who made sacrifices for others. Brave men and women who live on through these collections that display their artifacts and tell their stories.

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