M48 Patton Tank The U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum (USVMM) in Huntsville, Madison County, was founded in 2001 to celebrate the men and women who have served in the military from the American Revolution to the present day. The USVMM is most well-known for its collection of more than 30 rare and fully restored military vehicles from World War I through the Vietnam War. The museum has officially been designated by the Alabama House of Representatives as the State of Alabama Veterans Memorial Museum. Run entirely by volunteers, the museum seeks to preserve and display historical artifacts while also providing a forum to educate the public about the country’s military heritage.
The concept for the USVMM originated in 1986 with the founding of the Alabama Center for Military History, Inc., the nonprofit entity that oversees the USVMM. In November 2001, the museum officially opened in an airplane hangar at John Hunt Park, the site of a former Huntsville airport. The nonprofit institution operates entirely on corporate and public donations as well as an all-volunteer staff. The museum also receives support from other military history organizations, including the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment, which sponsors exhibits from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conflicts, and the 8th Air Force Historical Society, which sponsors the Eighth Air Force Briefing Room. In 2014, the museum began an expansion program to accommodate its ever-growing collection, taking over a 1,200-square-foot former clinic from the city of Huntsville.
Military Uniforms at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum The museum exhibits a variety of artifacts and military equipment from all major American wars, including the American Revolution, Mexican-American War, Civil War (notably an extensive collection of carbine rifles), World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts. In all, it boasts a collection of more than 800 military uniforms as well as a variety of paraphernalia ranging from gas masks to rifles, as well as documents and other artifacts. The exhibits are arranged chronologically to demonstrate the evolution of military technology over time. One of the most striking exhibits is a scaled replica of the briefing room of the U.S. Army Air Force 385th Bombardment Group, which flew out of the Royal Air Force Great Ashfield air base in Suffolk, England, from 1943-45. This unit was part of the Eighth Air Force and flew B-17 “Flying Fortresses” in numerous bombing missions over Occupied Europe during World War II.
The USVMM is most well-known for its collection of more than 30 military vehicles from World War II to the present-day, many of which are still in working condition. The collection is made up of donations and loans from various heritage foundations and private collections. It includes an array of tanks, boats, aircraft such as a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, a Vietnam-era river patrol boat, and an M-48 Patton tank. One highlight is the Ford Pygmy, a rare 1940 Jeep prototype purchased from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; it is widely considered to be the world’s oldest surviving example. In 2015, the Ford Pygmy was inducted into the National Historic Vehicle Register. Additionally, the museum boasts of having the most complete collection of Jeeps in the world.
Carbine Rifle Exhibit Seeking to fulfill its mission of educating the public, the USVMM also houses an extensive reference library. It offers numerous written and oral recollections from Alabama veterans and invites veterans to submit material to the museum for its collection. Additionally, the USVMM works alongside U.S. Army instructors from the Army’s Command and General Staff College at nearby Redstone Arsenal, hosting part of the Army Aviation and Missile Command Leadership Program and participating in the “Army Values” indoctrination. The museum also hosts various tours and classes on U.S. military history and arranges for volunteers to speak in classrooms as part of the federal “Lessons in Liberty” Initiative.
Every year, the museum also contributes vehicles for the annual Huntsville Veterans Day Parade, offers volunteers to place wreaths onto local soldier’s graves in cooperation with Wreaths for Veterans, and raises money for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. In 2013, the USVMM collaborated with the Huntsville Museum of Art to create the temporary photographic exhibit “Memories of World War II: Photographs from the Archives of the Associated Press.” It featured iconic images from the World War II era as well as artifacts and weapons directly related to the photographs from the USVMM.
The USVMM is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.