The U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville, Alabama celebrates the accomplishments of American servicemen and women. The museum’s emphasis begins with World War I, although there are artifacts on display dating as far back as the Revolutionary War. The collection includes over 30 historical military vehicles as well as aircraft, watercraft, weapons and other items of historical significance.
Exhibits at the museum are arranged on a timeline. The Pre-Civil War exhibit begins with the Revolutionary War and includes the Mexican War. Items on display from this time include uniforms, flags and weapons. The Civil War exhibit includes an extensive collection of carbon rifles, as well as Civil War cannons, uniforms and personal items belonging to soldiers. The World War I exhibit displays a wide variety of equipment and uniforms from the war including the Schneider-designed French howitzer cannon, the C17S. The World War II exhibit includes most of the museum’s fleet of vehicles. The highlight of the exhibit is the oldest known surviving example of a 1940 Ford Pygmy, a precursor to the Jeep. The Pygmy was acquired from the Henry Ford Museum in the 1980’s. The museum is home to the most complete collection of Jeeps in the world, and in addition to the Pygmy, includes the first Jeep ever to be sold to a civilian in the United States, the 1943 Ford GP prototype. The Korean Conflict exhibit displays military vehicles and helicopters, including a Bell H-13D medical evacuation helicopter estimated to have lifted 18,000 soldiers from the front lines to field hospitals. The Vietnam Exhibit includes weapons and uniforms from the war. A Present Day exhibit encompasses current conflicts in the Middle East. The 8th Air Force Briefing Room is a scaled replica of a World War II briefing room built from the memory of Lieutenant Bill Varnedoe, who served with Air Force’s 385th Bomb Group. Maps and boards in the room depict an actual mission flown by Varnedoe in Germany. Vardnedoe offers live briefing room simulations based on his memories of the war, and the performances are recorded for visitors who miss the in-person events. Outdoor exhibits display many of the vehicles and airplanes in the collection. Notable items in the collection include a “Huey” helicopter used in the Mel Gibson film “We Were Soldiers,” a Model 741 Indian Scout motorcycle, an M1 Garand replica rifle used in the Tom Hanks film, “Saving Private Ryan,” a Vietnam-era river patrol boat and a Sherman Flamethrower Tank.
History: The museum is operated by the Alabama Center of Military History, a non-profit organization founded to memorialize the accomplishments of veterans of the U.S. military. The non-profit entity was founded in 1986 by Lieutenant Colonel Randy Withrow, while he was on active duty with the US Military. Withrow’s interest in military memorabilia and collecting dates back to his childhood years when he purchased a German military helmet at the age of 10. Withrow is the current curator of the museum and is proud that the collection goes far beyond uniforms and weapons, and includes one of the most impressive fleets of restored and operating military vehicles in the United States. In 2014, the museum expanded to take on an additional 1,200 square feet of space to display the ever-growing collection. The museum operates entirely on donations and relies on a staff of a dozen volunteers.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Docent-led tours are available for groups and individuals, and are best scheduled in advance. The museum completes many of their own vehicle and weapon restorations with the assistance of volunteers. Historic vehicles that are still in operation participate in the annual Huntsville Veteran’s Day Parade. Volunteer veterans speak at local schools and host lectures, meetings and workshops at the museum. The museum is host to the annual Madison County High Schools Social Sciences History Fair. The museum also partners with the Army’s Command and General Staff College to host a variety of courses, including classes for students in the Army Aviation and Missile Command Leadership Program.
Past and Future Exhibits: The U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum is partnered with the Huntsville Museum of Art and has contributed to exhibits there. The museum recently supplied weapons and artifacts to enhance an exhibit on iconic photographs from World War II.
What’s Nearby: The museum is located in John Hunt Park. The park is home to a variety of athletic fields, a golf course, tennis course and running trail as well as several playgrounds.
2060A Airport Road, Huntsville, AL 35801, Phone: 256-883-3737