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Military Museums Tell A Story

If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle. If the horse has one front leg in the air the person died as a result of wounds received in battle. If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.

Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum
The USS Razorback, commissioned in April 1944.

Whether you're a Civil War buff, an amateur military strategist or just someone who's interested in getting your head around the repercussions of war, a trip to a military museum can provide fascinating historical insights.

In Kansas City, Mo., The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial has recently undergone a dramatic transformation aimed at preserving the memory of soldiers who fought in what once was considered "the war to end all wars." The Liberty Memorial Museum is the only public museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to the history of World War One. President Coolidge dedicated the original museum and adjacent courtyard.

Learn about 1,000-plus women who became the first female pilots to fly for the U.S. military as members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. At Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, the library collection of materials and photographs archives the WASPs' contributions to World War II.

Peruse the stacks at The Stars and Stripes Museum and Library in Bloomfield, Mo., where the military newspaper began life in 1861, for more stories about America's men and women in uniform. Numerous artifacts, graphics, and newspapers dating from the Civil War to the present are on display.

The 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City conveys Oklahoma's military presence during World War II and beyond. Included in the collection are more than 200 original Willie and Joe cartoons, as well as uniforms, firearms and dioramas depicting the division's participation in World War II, the Korean War and Desert Storm. An outdoor park features military vehicles, aircraft and artillery, but inside, it's the display of memorabilia taken from Hitler's apartment when it was captured by the 45th that will give you pause to reflect on the spoils of war.

An Act of the Oklahoma State Legislature passed in 1965 created the 45th Infantry Division Museum and placed it under the supervision of The Adjutant General of Oklahoma. In 1974 the Lincoln Park Armory, the present site of the museum, became available and was dedicated to the museum for permanent occupancy. This Armory was built by the Works Progress Administration, with completion in 1937. Following World War II, a brick Vehicle Storage Building was constructed thirty feet to the south of the Lincoln Park Armory. Over the years, the Armory has housed several military units of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, including the 45th Infantry Division Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Its last tenant was the Oklahoma National Guard Officer Candidate School.

To remember

National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.
"Not a modern, esoteric treatment, this is a monument in the neoclassic style consistent with the great capital structures. It's also within walking distance of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and many other museums and sites directly related to the war."

World War I Memorial, Washington, D.C.
"While the new memorial dedicated to those who fought in World War II attracts thousands of visitors a day, a decaying memorial stands nearby with few visitors: the DC World War I Memorial. The World War I memorial is a white marble structure that resembles an ancient Greek temple. It is near the Reflecting Pool but hidden in a grove of trees, just a short walk from its World War II counterpart. Built in 1931, the World War I memorial was dedicated by then-President Herbert Hoover to honor the Washington, D.C., residents who fought in the Great War. Tiny in comparison to its newest neighbor on the National Mall, the memorial consists of 12 columns and a dome engraved with "A Memorial to the Armed Forces From the District of Columbia Who Served Their Country in the World War." There are no signs directing tourists to the memorial. Signs of neglect and decay are visible, with black streaks running from the top of pillars and vegetation growing out of the dome. Last year, it was listed on Washington's Most Endangered Places."

Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii
"The USS Missouri, the battleship on which Japan surrendered in 1945, is anchored just beyond the USS Arizona Memorial. In one place is the beginning and end points of the war for the U.S. Several miles away, Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery is a beautiful, sobering reminder of the cost of war."

National D-Day Museum, New Orleans
"Founded by the late historian Stephen Ambrose, this superb museum covers more than 125 amphibious assaults carried out by American soldiers across Europe and the Pacific. A number of U.S. museums deal with the war, but this is the most comprehensive."

Aleutian World War II National Historic Area, Dutch Harbor, Alaska
"The only North American territory occupied by Japanese troops was in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Dutch Harbor is an easy two-hour flight from Anchorage, and the area is covered with reminders of the war, from concrete pillboxes to a large, underground hospital.

U.S. Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio
"With more than 300 aircraft, this is among the best military air museums in the world. The Air Power Gallery has more than 60 beautifully restored World War II aircraft, including a B-25B Mitchell bomber, a B-29 Superfortress and many others."

Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York City
"This indestructible aircraft carrier fought in the turning-point Battle of Leyte Gulf, Philippines, withstanding five kamikaze strikes throughout the war. She served the U.S. Navy for another three decades and is now the focal point of this Manhattan (at Pier 86) museum with more than 25 aircraft."

War in the Pacific National Historical Park, Guam
"Part of the National Park System, this battlefield preserve encompasses seven separate units around the U.S. territory of Guam, where some of the war's most terrible battles were fought. Original coastal defense guns, bunkers, shipwrecks, Japanese caves, 'Banzai Hill' and fascinating relics are easily accessible across the island."

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles
"Displays at this museum in the heart of L.A.'s Japantown chronicle the forced relocation and imprisonment of Japanese-Americans. Nearby is a granite monument etched with the names of Japanese-American veterans of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, whose heroics in Europe made it the most decorated unit of its size in U.S. Army history."

National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas
"The only museum in the continental U.S. dedicated exclusively to the Pacific War is located in the hometown of Admiral Chester Nimitz. Innovative displays include an interactive Henderson Field at Guadalcanal and engaging walk-through dioramas."

Tillamook Air Museum, Tillamook, Ore.
"Vulnerable coastlines led to the construction of enormous hangars for surveillance blimps along the Pacific Coast. This original seven-acre, barrel-roofed wooden hangar now houses one of the country's top private World War II aircraft collections.

Although named for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is one of Little Rock's oldest surviving buildings - an arsenal built in 1840 to fortify Arkansas against Indian attacks. During Civil War times, the armory saw exchanges between Union and Confederate forces; later, it became the birthplace of MacArthur - one of World War II's most decorated soldiers. Now, through permanent and traveling exhibits, the museum honors Arkansans who served their country from territorial days to the present.

In 1892, the federal government traded the property to the City of Little Rock for 1,000 acres in North Little Rock, on which Fort Roots was built. All the structures except the Tower Building were removed, and the federal government transferred ownership of the site to the City of Little Rock on the condition that the grounds be "forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park." For the next fifty years, the Tower Building remained largely vacant and deteriorating. Finally, in the late 1930s, the structure underwent renovation and opened in 1942 as the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities, which occupied the building until 1997.

In the northwest corner of Arkansas, Pea Ridge National Military Park - one of the most well-preserved battlefields in the U.S. is the 4,300-acre battleground that saved neighboring Missouri for the Union in 1862. The park also includes a reconstruction of the site's Civil War-era Elkhorn Tavern. On March 7 & 8, 1862, the Federal Army of the Southwest, under the command of Brigadier General Samuel Ryan Curtis defeated the combined Confederate Army of the West commanded by Major General Earl Van Dorn. Along with the capture of Forts Henry & Donelson in Western Tennessee, the decisive Federal victory at Pea Ridge set in motion the Federal campaigns in the West that would lead to the eventual Northern victory in 1865. The Pea Ridge National Military Park also holds a two-and-a-half-mile segment of the Trail of Tears walked by the Cherokee people in 1839.

Chalmette Battlefield, located six miles southeast of New Orleans, pre-dates the Civil War as the site of the Battle of New Orleans led by Gen. Andrew Jackson. Jackson's victory over the British concluded the War of 1812, which secured America's claim to the Louisiana Purchase and catapulted Jackson to national hero status.

The six sites of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve represent a treasure trove of south Louisiana's historical and cultural riches. People from nearly every country, ethnic group, language, and religion have come to the Lower Mississippi River Delta and left traces of their passing. As author William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." In south Louisiana, the places where history happened are around every corner and down every bayou, and the well-worn skills and traditions of previous generations are revered at the same time they're adapted for life in a new century.

Highlighting America's westward expansion is the Frontier Military Museum in Drexel, Mo. The museum boasts one of the most comprehensive collections of horse-soldier gear in the Midwest, with 25 showcases featuring frontier saddles, bridles, halters, bits, uniforms and weapons. It also has a frontier store, American Indian artifacts and an art gallery. The Frontier Military Museum is dedicated to those long-departed heroes of the horse soldier era - the common soldier who campaigned in heat and cold, who sustained himself on salt pork, hardtack and coffee, and who attended to his personal needs only after he had given his horse proper care. It pays tribute to those unnamed heroes who rode into the sunset in a cloud of dust with parched throats, empty canteens and mess kits, and little appreciation for their dedicated service ... all for $13 a month in pay.

America's most iconic testament to western expansionism can be found in San Antonio, where The Alamo retells the tragedy of fallen heroes - including famed frontiersman Davy Crockett - in the original mission setting where they attempted to ward off Gen. Santa Anna's Mexican forces.

More than 2.5 million people a year visit the 4.2 acre complex known worldwide as "The Alamo." Most come to see the old mission where a small band of Texans held out for thirteen days. Although the Alamo fell in the early morning hours of March 6, 1836, the death of the Alamo Defenders has come to symbolize courage and sacrifice for the cause of Liberty. The memories of James Bowie, David Crockett, and William B. Travis are as powerful today as when the Texan Army under Sam Houston shouted "Remember the Alamo!" as it routed Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. The Alamo represents nearly 300 years of history. Three buildings - the Shrine, Long Barrack Museum and Gift Museum - house exhibits on the Texas Revolution and Texas History. Visitors are welcome to stroll through the beautiful Alamo Gardens. Just a short distance from the River Walk, the Alamo is a "must see."

The USS Razorback (SS 394), is a World War II submarine that also saw service during the Cold War era and Vietnam. Centered around the submarine USS Razorback it also features the historic tug USS Hoga (YT 146), Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum is more than just a military museum.

At War Memorial Park & Military Museum in Muskogee, Okla. the Museum is in a small building; however, it contains many items related to the USS Batfish, other submarines, and World War 2 in general, including battle flags, photographs, artifacts, models and other interesting items. The Main attraction of the War Memorial Park is USS Batfish. Launched in 1943, her record earned her 9 Battle Stars, 1 Navy Cross, 4 Silver Stars, 10 Bronze Stars and 1 Presidential Unit Citation.

Margaret Dornaus. A freelance writer from Ozark, Ark. A Five-Star, Five-State Tour. Home & Away Magazine. November/December 2006.


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