Civil War, History Class, Life, Memorials, Photos, Travel, Uncategorized, World War 2

Exploring the Oshkosh Military Veterans Museum

I did something that wasn’t unpacking, cleaning, or schoolwork!

A Saturday or two ago, I slipped away for a couple of hours into Oshkosh, WI, to explore a new museum. Just down the road from the rather better-known EAA Aviation Museum*, the Military Veterans Museum was a fascinating place to visit AND it provided some photos of historical displays that I hope you’ll enjoy.

The museum was founded by five veterans of the Second World War: Jim Webb and Russ Mueller who served in the USMC, and Bud Hjerstadt, Cal Zernicke, and Jim Lauderdale who served in the US Army Air Corps. Founded in 1990, the museum has grown and now has its own building, pictured above.

Outside of the museum stand flags for all of the branches of U.S. military service, circled by memorial benches for various local veterans. A star-shaped brick pavement under the flags bears the names of donors to the memorial.

The museum itself is volunteer-run, and it was easy to see that the people working there cared about their mission and were eager to share the stories of local veterans.

Just inside, past the small gift shop area, is their “Medal of Honor” wall. All of the Wisconsin-born recipients of this highest U.S. Military Honor are listed on the map. (You might notice the picture of Gen. Douglass MacArthur there. Though born in Arkansas, his family lived in Milwaukee for some time.)

The photo across from MacArthur’s is that of First Sgt. Elmer J. Burr, a World War II veteran from nearby Neenah, WI. On the day before Christmas 1942, while serving in Buna, New Guinea, he threw himself onto a live grenade, shielding his companions. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. In 1944, a Duluth-built ship was named after him. The cargo ship, the Elmer J. Burr, was launched and served until 1946 when she ran aground in the Aleutian Islands.

Past the Medal of Honor wall, the museum opens up to a rectangular room. A display with maps in the center allows visiting veterans to mark the areas of the world where they served.

Around the edges are displays detailing the different military conflicts that Wisconsinites have been involved in. (So, no Revolutionary War memorabilia here.)

The first display, showing uniforms from the Civil War era, included a couple of authentic saddles that are about 160 years old. I followed the advice on the sign and did not touch.

There was also quite an interesting display on the period between the Civil War and WWI (which put me in mind of my recent visit to the Hiker Memorial.) The part of the display that fascinated me the most were these pieces of hardtack which were apparently used as a canvas for some sailor-artists.

Now, I knew that hardtack was famous for having a long shelf-life, but over a hundred years? I asked the woman who was in charge of the front desk if these were authentic, and she said that to her knowledge they were. She also said that they’d tried some hardtack recipes, just out of curiosity. They found that the modern version did not keep quite as well as the historical kind. Or, I thought, perhaps the modern palate just has the luxury of being more picky. (Of course, if you consider that these gentlemen were using their biscuits to paint on, maybe they were just as picky, but didn’t have as many options…)

Anyway.

The displays for various conflicts continued on through the First World War, and, of course, World War II.

Many of the items on display were donated by local people, and I was told that the museum doesn’t have room for all of the items they have been given. Perhaps there will be an extension in the future.

Other displays highlighted the service of local veterans in more recent conflicts.

However, the room with the displays wasn’t what drew me to visit this museum. When I first found it online, I was interested to see that they have a large garage full of military vehicles…

…and one of those vehicles is a Higgins boat.

The Higgins boat, or LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), was instrumental in Allied successes in World War II. These boats, designed to carry infantry and jeeps to shore, allowed the Allies to make amphibious landings in both the Pacific and European theater.

It was quite an experience to get to stand on one, to imagine crouching below the low sides, waiting for the front to swing down, for the charge into the surf, hoping to make it to land.

This display also included a TV playing a training film from WWII—interesting stuff—and a jeep. If you notice the tall arm fixed to the front of the vehicle, that was a “wire cutter,” meant to break any wires that retreating enemy soldiers might stretch across the road at about neck-height.

The museum had rows of other military vehicles, many of which visitors could climb up into. (One of the museum staff told me that, even if a vehicle said not to climb in, if I really needed to they could probably work something out. I didn’t take him up on it…this time.)

Below are a few that I thought were particularly interesting. I hadn’t seen anything quite like the “unditching roller” on the second vehicle and seeing a truck from the “Red Ball Express” reminded me that I had planned to do a post on that sometime. (I have a link attached to the picture if you’d like to know more now.)

The last is (obviously) not a vehicle. The walls of the garage area included displays of weapons from the principal participants in the Second World War, and above one rack they had an oversized M1 Garand. The side of it is open, and it was used to train soldiers how to take apart and reassemble their weapons.

I always appreciate a nod to Bill Mauldin.

Overall, I found the Military Veterans Museum well worth a visit. It would make an interesting stop for an hour or two and is the sort of place where I could bring the whole family. Not only did they have free admission—always helpful with children—but there were other family-friendly features such as uniforms kids could try on, and the touchable vehicles.

What about you? Have any of you ever visited this spot? Have you found any other interesting places where history comes alive?

Thanks for stopping by! I suppose I ought to get back to house cleaning, though I may tuck away a little time to work on a piece of fiction that I’m preparing to share with you in a month. We’ll see.

*The EAA’s “AirVentures” weekend makes the little local airfield the busiest in the world…for one week every July.

19 thoughts on “Exploring the Oshkosh Military Veterans Museum”

  1. Based on your report, I might make the trip to see this museum. It’s less than a two hour drive. I have visited the EAA museum and attended the air show a couple of times. You would enjoy all the WWII aircraft that fly in every year.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am VERY tempted to budget in going to the EAA next year. We saw some aircraft from the lawn of a local post office this year, and it was pretty awesome. I’d like to get closer…

      I think you would enjoy the museum! It’s not huge- I spent about 2 hours, and I went slowly and read almost everything (no kids along so I could get away with that :)) but there are lots of other nice things to do in the area, and the fall leaves are lovely!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I just learned that when I was going through Superior WI this summer I was going right by a museum dedicated to the top (I think) flying ace of WWII. So now I need to get up THERE again…! So many places…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your post, which I’m just now getting around to reading, coincided perfectly with a similar museum my wife and I visited yesterday–the Veterans Military Museum in Brevard, NC. We were warmly greeted by first one docent and then, after I mentioned having written _Dillon’s_War_, two others, both of whom were board members and one of whom is in charge of the speakers bureau. They were extremely helpful, offering interesting and informative information and even inviting me to speak and sell my book as soon as it’s released by the publisher. I thought you might be interested in visiting their website (https://theveteransmuseum.org/) or even the museum itself if you’re ever down in Western North Carolina.

    Liked by 1 person

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