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Michigan Military Heritage Museum Grows With Help From IAVA Member

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From a young age I have been interested in military history and the items that service members use. I grew up in Detroit and its suburbs with a Father that was a marine and a Grandfather that served as an infantryman in the early days of the Pacific War in WWII. Throughout school and growing up I always wanted to be a soldier.

In 1985 I graduated high school and immediately joined the army. I trained at Ft. Jackson and later served with the 5th Infantry Div. (Mech) at Ft. Polk LA. I never lost my interest in history or the artifacts.  After leaving the regular army I remained in the Army Reserve as an instructor in the 70th Div (Tng). I trained at Ft. Benning and Ft. Riley, Ft. McCoy and others. I mobilized in 1990 and served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm with a transportation group. (Apparently I had passed an old skills qualifications test and was deemed a truck driver!) In Saudi Arabia I lost my right ear and had several surgeries. I was able to remain in the reserve and continued on in the 70th Division.

In 1993 the 70th Division was moved to the west coast and I was forced to find a new “army home”. I decided to try the Michigan National Guard as there was a signal battalion that offered school, potential promotion, and a security clearance. I remained there until 1999 transferring to the 1776th M.P. Company.I left home in April 2003 for Ft. Riley, and from there to Kuwait and ultimately Iraq.  

During the early insurgency we were extended and I ended up completing a 14th month tour.

 I witnessed incredible things on a daily basis.  It was a surreal experience .

Through all of this I gained a realization that not only were we participating in making history, but that we were normal citizen soldiers from various walks of life. I knew that somehow these stories needed to be told as did the stories of those who came before us. My goal was set at getting a museum off the ground that would benefit the service members of the state of Michigan.

Michigan attempted a museum through the State Department of Military and Veteran Affairs and it was opened in an old WWII barracks at Fort Custer in 1999. After 9/11 the fort was locked down and access restricted to appointments and those with valid military i.d.  So, the public was out and the museum struggled.

I reached out to a group of childhood friends and we developed the idea for a new museum. We sought out several locations and came to my new home town of Grass Lake after learning that there was a German POW camp here in WWII. We partnered with the local Grass Lake Area Historical Society and began to develop the idea of a military museum in earnest. In Grass Lake we fund raised and began collecting items and stories of veterans throughout the state. Soon the closets were full and then my basement. We received  a 1745 British cannon from Detroit and restored it. Through that effort we received some national media support. Later a local builder offered us a generous lease on a new building and on November 4th of 2016, the Michigan Military Heritage Museum opened to the public for the first time.

Our stories spanned the pre statehood era of Michigan to current service members. In March of 2017 we received a second cannon that saw service in the Mexican War and with the confederates in the Civil War. It was a bittersweet gift as its previous owner had been in on the museum plan and had passed away in January. Still, we were thrilled and honored to be able to carry on his passion, and the cannon still shoots at events and school functions. We just received a great honor from our state as we helped to get Senate Bill 248 signed into law. It recognizes the Michigan WWI Centennial and forms a commission which contains one of our board members and our museum is the HQ. We are currently restoring a 1917 Ford Model T ambulance that can travel to parades and schools for educational purposes.

The museum contains thousands of objects, hundreds of individual stories of service and sacrifice and we continue to grow. We have a somber exhibit to LCPL Troy D. Nealey of Eaton Rapids who was killed on Iraq in 2006, as well as many other OEF/OIF vets remembered on our Wall of Honor. In November we will celebrate our first anniversary having had somewhere near 10,000 visitors from all over.

I have found that telling these veteran stories, listening to them and their families and seeing the pride that people have in our exhibits is quite fulfilling. The stories are important and it is a small way to keep these memories alive for generations. I hope that you all can visit and encourage support for this endeavor and a fellow vet.

For More Information Visit: https://glahc.com

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