Veterans museum instills pride and appreciation for those who served

single-meta-cal June 25, 2018

Each June, Huntsville celebrates Armed Forces Week to salute community partners at Team Redstone. In the midst of the commemorative festivities, perhaps the best place to learn about the lives and sacrifices of those who served in the military is in a quiet building adjacent to John Hunt Park – the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum. Lucy Berry takes us on a tour and tells us what’s next for this national treasure.

Arriving at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum recently with his family, Robert Parker wasn’t sure what the blue and white building in Huntsville would hold.

What he found inside made him, his wife, and 14-year-old daughter simply say, “Wow.” The 12,000-square-foot facility is one of the country’s premier military museums with hundreds of memorabilia, artifacts, and equipment ranging from the American Revolutionary War to present day Iraq and Afghanistan.

Parker, an Indiana resident who stopped at the museum on his way to Gulf Shores, never served in the military but has family who did. Seeing so many rare and important artifacts from American military history in one place was “humbling,” he said.

“It makes you realize what all they went through,” he said. “It’s pretty neat.”

Open since 2001, the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum on 2060-A Airport Road is one of the top destinations in Huntsville on Director Randy Withrow said that’s a pretty big deal for a museum that has no money for advertising and relies solely on volunteers to operate.

With the city behind us as they are, we need to do this bigger because we have things we can’t bring in and things that if we restore, we have to protect.”

The Alabama Center of Military History, a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational institution founded in 1986, runs the museum in a former work release center. Withrow said they were busy converting the building when the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 others.

“We felt a need to have it open on Veterans Day in 2001,” he said. “Since we opened it, we’ve been continually growing and developing and getting more artifacts. The purpose is to simply honor our veterans. That, to me, is very sacred.”

The year-round museum features numerous displays that pay tribute to the accomplishments of American military men and women. Walking through the building, visitors will see a variety of objects – from antique firearms and ammunition to a real officer’s mess kit.

Child visits Veterans Musem

More than 30 historical vehicles dating back to World War I are also available for viewing, including military aircraft, Jeeps, motorcycles, tanks, watercraft, and more. Withrow said the “crown jewel” of the collection is the Ford Pygmy, the oldest-known surviving example of the vehicles that eventually became the Jeep.

Ford was one of three companies competing to fulfill the U.S. Army’s requirement for the ¼-ton Reconnaissance car. People from all over the world – most recently Norway – travel to the Huntsville museum to see it and other treasures.


Exploring Huntsville's U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum

As Huntsville celebrates Armed Forces Week, we explore the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum, a Huntsville museum dedicated to promoting the accomplishments of American servicemen and women.Read more —>

Posted by City of Huntsville, Alabama – Government on Tuesday, June 26, 2018

“I don’t think we can do enough for our veterans,” Withrow said. “Look what they’ve done and are doing for us – defending our country and protecting us.”

The U.S. Veteran Memorial Museum also has an Eighth Air Force Briefing Room, a scaled replica of the briefing room used by the 385th Bomb Group, USAAF in Great Ashfield, England from 1943-1945. The room was built from memory by Lt. Bill Varnedoe, a B-17 navigator with the 385th Bomb Group from 1944-1945.

Because there’s so much history between the walls of the U.S. Veteran Memorial Museum, Withrow said visitors see all 50 state flags when they enter the main building.

“Even though we’re in Huntsville, this museum is a tribute to all our nation’s veterans,” he said. “And even though we’re talking a lot of history, we’re also honoring the ones from yesterday, today, and tomorrow – our future veterans.”

Withrow, a self-described war baby whose family served in or supported operations during World War II, wanted to be a pilot for the U.S. Navy but couldn’t pass the eye test. He was eventually drafted in 1970 and served in Germany, Korea, and Kuwait.

“I don’t think we can do enough for our veterans. Look what they’ve done and are doing for us – defending our country and protecting us.”

The Gadsden native later retired after 26 years with the U.S. Army and settled in the Rocket City, which “felt like home.”

Since the U.S. Veteran Memorial Museum opened nearly 17 years ago, attendance has grown to roughly 10,000 visitors annually. With the City of Huntsville’s support, Withrow and his army of volunteers hope to expand the current building just minutes from the downtown Veterans Memorial Park.

“With the city behind us as they are, we need to do this bigger because we have things we can’t bring in and things that if we restore, we have to protect,” he said. “We’re talking with the city and looking at what options are best.”

An expansion would also enhance the museum’s educational initiatives, particularly for young people. A larger museum and additional outreach programs mean more youth will understand the sacrifices the military has made for their freedom, Withrow said.

Veterans Museum

Visiting last week with his friend from out of state, 18-year-old Miami resident Jacob Bohran was impressed by everything the crowded museum had to offer.

“We looked up the war museums around here and this was one of them, so we decided to check it out,” he said. “It’s been very informational so far and I’m very happy that I came.”

Withrow hopes the museum instills a sense of pride and appreciation for those who have served in all branches of the U.S. military. The museum’s target age group is sixth grade.

“If we can impress upon the young people the contributions of the veterans, we have succeeded,” he said.

U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum

The U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum is located at 2060A Airport Road in Huntsville.

Hours of operation are Wednesday – Saturday: 10 a.m – 4 p.m.
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day

$5 Donation for Adults
$4 Donation for Seniors
$3 Donation for Students under 18
Active Duty in Uniform and Guests Free

Phone: (256) 883-3737|