From cotton to rockets, Huntsville is known for many things. The arrival of the U.S. Army in 1941 and subsequent establishment of Redstone Arsenal changed the City’s trajectory and brought thousands of people and new ideas to the area. It was the dawn of a strong, enduring relationship between Huntsville and the U.S. Armed Forces.
A testament to that relationship is the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum, located at 2060 Airport Road S.W. The museum opened at a turbulent time in our nation’s history, just two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The grand opening, on Nov. 11, 2001, represented a show of support for the nation and its heroes. Twenty years later, the museum continues to honor service members’ contributions and sacrifices through one-of-a-kind exhibits.
“The Veterans Memorial Museum exists to honor all who have served and to support veterans activities, events and organizations,” said Randy Withrow, museum director. “The museum has thousands of artifacts, all serving as tributes to those who have served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Even though artifacts mostly date from World War I to now, it also includes items dating back to the Revolutionary War. Original French Charleville and British “Brown Bess” muskets are on display, while another exhibit features weapons from the Civil War.
Other collections include individual medals, military vehicles and aircraft. Visitors can even “go aboard” Alabama’s “40&8” World War I French military boxcar, a gift to Alabama from France.
Everyone has a veteran in their family. We encourage everyone to come and see firsthand the artifacts that recall their service and sacrifices.
For military vehicle enthusiasts, the museum features the oldest ancestor of the vehicle that became known as the jeep – the 1940 Ford “Pygmy” pilot model. The Museum’s military jeep collection is without equal, featuring everything from prototypes up to the Humvee. If aircraft is more your speed, the museum has a MASH Korean War helicopter as well as a Vietnam-era Huey chopper.
The museum acquires its artifacts from a range of sources, including private collections, donations and loans from the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Most museum patrons are from the U.S., but Withrow said it has welcomed international visitors.
“While visiting the U.S., a number of visitors say they had to include Huntsville to see the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the world-class collection here at the museum,” he said.
Paying a visit
As with many museums and public venues, the Veterans Memorial Museum was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though closed for months, it’s again ready for visitors willing to wear face coverings and practice social distancing between groups. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment. School groups are welcome.
The museum supports and participates in multiple veterans organizations and events throughout the year, including the recent Armed Forces Day Historic Military Vehicle Rally on May 15. It will also participate in the upcoming Memorial Day ceremony and wreath-laying at 9 a.m. Monday, May 31, at the Veterans Memorial Park on Monroe Street in downtown Huntsville.
Later this year, the museum will support Veterans Week activities, including the Veterans Day Parade, and will host an open house afterwards.
“Everyone has a veteran in their family,” Withrow said. “We encourage everyone to come and see firsthand the artifacts that recall their service and sacrifices.”
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/usvmm.
Celebrate Historic Preservation Month by checking out previous blog posts on the Historic Lowry House, Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HMCPL) Special Collections Department and EarlyWorks Family of Museums. You can also view Facebook Live tours of the H.C. Black Art & History Center and U.S. Space and Rocket Center.