Monona County Veterans Memorial Museum

Located in Onawa, Iowa, a small town of just under 3,000 people, the MONONA COUNTY VETERANS MEMORIAL MUSEUM was the vision of two local men, newspaper editor William Wonder, who conceived the idea, and friend Duane Miller, who came on board to assist with the project. Neither of these gentlemen are veterans themselves, but felt that we, as a nation, were losing sight of the importance of our veterans and their contributions to this country. The museum is a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made for the freedoms we enjoy every day, and often take for granted in our busy, day-to-day lives.

The museum honors and remembers over 6,000 Monona County Veterans from the Mexican War through the current day, including those who have served through peacetime, the uncertain times of the Cold War, and the more perplexing War on Terror.

Outside are a number of vintage military static displays. The largest and the first that visitors see in the center of the “loop drive” is an A7-D Corsair II Fighter Bomber. In front of the building, the American flag, along with the colorful “branch flags” line the sidewalk leading to the building. Acting as a silent sentry is an M60 A3 armored tank, along with a 6,000-pound Danforth ship’s anchor and a rare 1942 M3 Diamond T Half-Track. Around back, is a 1964 vintage UH-1 Huey helicopter and an M101A1 105mm towed Howitzer. A series of walk paths around the facility, along with benches, offer a place to quietly reflect and meditate. This area also allows for an “Avenue of Flags” during special times of the year, which honor our veterans.

Inside, photographs, uniforms and other personal items and memorabilia from all the wars are on display — many being contributions made by Monona County veterans from many famous and infamous battles throughout history.
A central granite marker is reserved to honor the sacrifices made by our veterans. The pentagon-shaped blue-grey granite weighs in excess of two tons and is pierced by a bayonet affixed to an M1 Garand rifle, with a WWII-vintage helmet, replicating a battlefield grave marker. A set of dog tags and a religious cross hang from the rifle’s trigger mechanism. Inscribed on bronze plaques on each side of the memorial are the names of Monona County KIAs, MIAs, combat wounded, POWs and the names of those who died in non-battle situations while serving their country.

Continuing on, a 1917 machine gun and ammunition cart (Caison) and a 1942 Ford GPW Jeep with a .30-caliber Browning sit across from one another in stark contrast. There are many weapons on display (including war souvenirs) — M1 Carbine, Browning (BAR), Thompson sub-machinegun, M-60 machinegun, M-16, WWI Springfield rifle, WWI Colt pistol, Japanese Arisaka rifles, German MP 40 machinegun, Lugers and more.
Adding to the ambiance, soft background music plays patriotic marches, ballads and period-news broadcasts relating to the world at war.

Opened to the public on Memorial Day in 2000, the museum expanded in 2006 to include an extensive military library and multi-media center. The new addition was dedicated to those serving through Desert Storm, 911 and the current War on Terror.

The MONONA COUNTY VETERAN’S MEMORIAL MUSEUM (203 12th Street, Onawa, IA 51040; 712/423-3780) is open Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend from 1-4 p.m., and by appointment any other time of the year. For more information, contact museum organizer/curator William Wonder at 712/423-2411.