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90 Military Vehicles — From WWI To Today — Go On Display At New Mass. Museum02:37
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The American Heritage Museum in Stow, which opens to the public Friday, features tanks, armored vehicles and military artifacts. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The American Heritage Museum in Stow, which opens to the public Friday, features tanks, armored vehicles and military artifacts. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

What is billed as one of the largest tank and military vehicle collections in the United States goes on display Friday when the American Heritage Museum opens to the public.

The centerpiece of the museum — located in Stow, Massachusetts — is a 65,000-square-foot building, which features more than 90 military vehicles ranging from the World War I era to today. The collection includes the first American-built tank, the only German and Russian World War II-era tanks on display in the U.S., the only Scud missile launcher on display and a Higgins Boat used during the D-Day invasion in 1944.

It also includes a section of the Berlin Wall and a piece of steel taken from the 9/11 wreckage of the World Trade Center.

The "Defense Of The Reich" exhibit (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The "Defense Of The Reich" exhibit (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Despite the array of artifacts, the museum's executive director, Rob Collings, wants the story the museum tells to be about people.

"We highlight in the museum the technological evolution, the historical relevance that these vehicles played in the world we are living in today," Collings said, "and also the personal stories that relate to the men and women who served on these vehicles or built them."

One of the museum pieces Collings says is closest to him is an M1A1 Abrams tank used during the war in Iraq, which is on loan from the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia.

A U.S. M1A1 Abrams tank that was used during the war in Iraq (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A U.S. M1A1 Abrams tank that was used during the war in Iraq (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In 2006, Marine Sgt. George Ulloa Jr., of Austin, Texas, was killed while on patrol with the tank in Al Anbar province. The display next to the tank includes a video that features Ulloa's widow and several of his fellow Marines, who share their stories of Ulloa and how their views on the war in Iraq have changed.

"That's hard to walk away from without shedding a tear," Collings said. "It's a very emotional story because it's highlighting that reality of war and something that's very recent to all of us."

Most of the military vehicles on display came in a donation from a single private collector: Jacques Littlefield. The California-based businessman spent decades collecting military vehicles and amassed the world's largest private collection of military vehicles before his death in 2009. Much of his collection was donated to the Collings Foundation, which runs the museum, in 2013.

The "World War I Trench Experience" exhibit is part of the orientation theater where visitors can walk down into and explore. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The "World War I Trench Experience" exhibit is part of the orientation theater where visitors can walk down into and explore. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The museum also highlights Massachusetts' and New England's roles in American wars dating from the Revolutionary War through the ongoing War on Terror.

"A lot of the guns on these tanks were built right in the Watertown Arsenal," Collings said.

Collings hopes to engage visitors in conversations about the nature and costs of war, and rejects the idea that the American Heritage Museum is "pro-war" because of what it displays.

"Once you put all of this in context," he said, "you can see most museums that might be described as 'war museums' are actually anti-war museums because the reality is so grim."

This segment aired on May 3, 2019.

Related:

Dan Guzman Twitter Senior Producer, Morning Edition
Dan Guzman is senior producer for Morning Edition at WBUR.

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