Veterans Day is a time we stop to thank and remember the duty and sacrifice of the men and women who make up our Armed Forces. Many of us know someone who serves or perhaps injured or killed within the last 10 years.
But what about the other 364 days? Or when the fighting is over, how do they spend their time? Where does a career military member go after spending decades in service? The Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes is a post where veterans still report for duty. Their mission is to preserve the artifacts of history so future generations understand the price that was paid for our freedom.
Located in new digs in the former Blackford Glass factory site, the museum contains one of the best overall collections of military memorabilia this side of the Smithsonian. Its vast array of unique artifacts — military vehicles, artillery, weaponry, uniforms, insignia, artwork, textual resources, music, equipment and other related artifacts — keeps expanding. It’s sprawling 11 acres may house a vast new building to unite its burgeoning collection and organize its relics.
I visited the museum last week and was immediately drawn to the F-4 Phantom that looks like it just rolled off the tarmac. After more than two years of planning, the F4 arrived at the museum this summer. History and military buffs understand the F-4 was the main combat jet used in the Vietnam War, but is scarce today.
A favorite jacket of 4-star General George Patton, donated by his son, headlines the collection of General’s uniforms that can’t be found outside Washington or West Point. An entire military barracks installment was moved and is being recreated in the museum’s restoration area for eventual display in the new building.
But the most important treasures on the grounds aren’t found in shelves or behind glass. They’re living, breathing veterans of wars long concluded who not only provide tours, but lead the efforts to authenticate, acquire and restore everything on the grounds. Whether it was a nuclear missile that was once secretly pointed at Cuba during the missile crises, or an iconic Sherman Tank, vets like Frank Roales cut, saw, press, grind and fabricate these artifacts back to reflect historical accuracy.
A Korean-war vet, Roales has worked tirelessly to build the Museum’s collection. But he took me on a tour of the new location like a spry enlisted man during basic training. He showed me how they converted a dilapidated concrete burner from the glass factory into a German fortification like those in Normandy during D-Day.
The Indiana Military Museum serves thousands of patrons each year, including scout groups, K-12 classes, families, individuals, Veteran’s organizations and military unit reunion groups. Postsecondary institutions from throughout the region are also regular patrons as colleges and universities find rare and invaluable opportunities to enhance their curricula through immersion in the museum’s resources. Individuals, faculty, and student researchers are also welcome to conduct independent research for scholarly projects and publications.
The Indiana Military Museum is open daily from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Admission to the interior museum exhibits is $3.00 for people over 12 years of age and free for museum members, $5 for adults ages 18-61, $3 for youth ages 6-17. $1 off for Senior Citizens and Active Military.