Veterans Memorial Museum
Another superb museum located right beside I-5, about an hour’s drive south of Seattle, the Veterans Memorial Museum is dedicated to the men and women who have served our nation in the armed forces during peacetime and war.
Greeting visitors at the entrance is a model of a U.S. soldier with tracker dog. Inside the 9,000-square-foot main gallery a thorough historical narrative of the history of the United States military is presented in chronological order, starting with items from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and Cavalry period, before moving through WWI, WWII, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf Wars. All branches of the U.S. military are represented with artifacts from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
The 85 large glass display cases are filled with professionally arranged and signed artifacts ranging from Medals of Honor, extensive weapons displays, ammunition displays, medals, historical photographs, equipment, original letters, vehicles, life-size models in uniform, flags, banners, divisional patches and hundreds of memorabilia items, all with their own story to tell.
Smaller displays about special and historic aspects of the United States military such as Special Operations, Pearl Harbor, Code Talkers and POW/MIA also capture visitor’s attention. There’s a fascinating series of artifacts taken from German soldiers during WWII in a glass case: Nazi flags, medals, belt buckles, etc., that came back by the thousands in the soldier’s packs and duffel bags. An excellent display of Japanese soldier’s personal belongings and weapons lines another case.
There is a display on the unknown war that U.S. soldiers participated in Siberia from 1918-20. A nice tribute to the Glenn Miller Band tells how the band provided entertainment to hundreds of thousands of soldiers with their Big Swing Band sound, popular at the time. One thing that makes this museum more personal, are the stories told by veterans from the town of Chehalis, accompanied by their letters home, uniforms and photographs.
Proudly displayed along an entire wall is the 30-foot by 60-foot flag from the USS Abraham Lincoln. Visitors can’t miss the life-size replica of General George S. Patton standing in front of this enormous flag in a recreation of the famous opening scene starring George C. Scott’s “kill them before they kill you” speech in the movie “Patton.”
Museum volunteers are happy to accompany visitors through the museum, sharing their personal stories. When I visited, a WWII aviation bomber veteran was sharing all sorts of fascinating stories with a visiting family.
There’s a bonus for military aficionados: an impressive military library with shelf after shelf of military books and magazines, as well as military videos. A well-stocked gift and souvenir shop stands at the entrance to the museum.
VETERANS MEMORIAL MUSEUM (100 SW Veterans Way, Chehalis, WA 98532; phone 360/740-8875, visit http://veteransmuseum.org) is open June through September, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and 1-5 p.m., Sunday; from October through May, hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday.
Admission is $5 adults, $3 students and children under 6 are free. Allow about two hours.