Broken Arrow, Okla., saw the addition of the Military History Center as an opportunity
The name Military History Center encompasses the entire concept behind this striking museum in Broken Arrow, Okla. In addition to revolving displays, the attraction houses an excellent research library often used by visitors and local high school students taking history of war classes. Equally important, the museum hosts a VA center to help disabled veterans through the maze of paperwork needed to obtain benefits and serves as a gathering spot for veterans to share time together and talk with visitors.
“A frequent visitor is 94-year-old World War II veteran Oscar Nipps Jr., who was presented with six World War II medals by Congressman Kevin Hern during our Flag Day ceremony last June,” retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, curator and executive director, said.
Recently, 15-year-old intern Claire Botkin brought in a World War II concentration camp torture device given to her because of her abiding interests in military history and in the museum. She is currently researching to identify the device and hopefully its historical background.
“I can’t wait to find out all about this. It is interesting and important,” Claire said as she looked up from her research.
The museum was founded by Air Force Col. Robert Powell in 1989. He wanted to create a living museum where people would happily return for parades and special events, such as this year’s military history trivia contest and a MIA/POW event the third Friday of September. The Robert’s quest for the museum hit a snag when he was unable to find a permanent home for it in Tulsa.
Nearby Broken Arrow saw adding the museum to their downtown rejuvenation as an opportunity to show their support for those willing to protect our country as well as a meaningful attraction for visitors. Consequently, the city set aside $300,000 to purchase and renovate a facility that once served as a hospital and likely treated injuries of veterans from World War I through Vietnam.
“I became involved with the museum in 2014 when I was asked to help move items from a 1935 house in Tulsa owned by Jimmy Swindler,” Thomas said. “The move took place at the end of 2014 when the 6,400 square-foot facility opened in November with Broken Arrow continuing to pay most of the operating expenses. Robert and I hit it off really well, and I simply never left.”
In the beginning, the museum was organized by the different branches of the service. Through time, however, the museum found organizing chronologically by conflicts and wars starting with the Revolutionary War through Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq far more efficient.
What makes this museum special is the extensive volunteer force which includes 20 knowledgeable guides (docents) who escort visitors through the museum. These guides offer the opportunity to ask questions of the well-documented displays. Two of the newer displays feature the Holocaust and Native American contributions to the military.
Perhaps the rarest item in the museum is a pair of straw overboots which were made by female prisoners at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Overboots were used by German soldiers on more stationary duty during frigid Russian winters. Only two other pairs are known to be displayed in the United States, one from World War I and another from World War II.
Native American items include a life-size mannequin of a Choctaw code talker from World War I and a display of the Coon family. Grandfather Phillip was a World War II survivor of the Bataan Death March while his son Michael D. served in Vietnam. Grandson Michael K. informed his grandfather he too wanted to be in the military and subsequently served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The horrors of war scarred Michael K. deeply with him finally committing suicide after the clustered deaths of his beloved grandfather, grandmother and mother.
Every day 22 veterans commit suicide, and, in the fall of 2019, a now traveling display entitled Mission 22 featuring 22 10-foot-by-4 columns with steel silhouettes of soldiers who committed suicide will be installed at Broken Arrow’s Veterans Park during Veterans Day celebrations. The Coon family has been deeply involved with Mission 22 and Dalton Coon, one of Michael D.’s children, will be carrying on the family military tradition.
The museum offers an opportunity to subscribe to a monthly newsletter full of wonderful photographs, important dates and short feature articles.
The Military History Center also has its own website which includes days and hours of operation and a very busy event calendar. One-highly anticipated event is the 2020 Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day during the third weekend in March. This celebration will feature a Bob Hope impersonator including a Vietnam tour event.
Many families enjoy day trips and the Military History Center offers the special opportunity to meet some of the veterans who have protected us so well.