Greater Tulsa Reporter
ARTIFACTS: The Military Museum in Broken Arrow will house many items from the history of the U.S. Military and its involvement in keeping the nation safe and free.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
Renovations are underway for the Museum of Military History, which will be located on Main Street in the former Special Services Center of Broken Arrow Public Schools. Currently housed in Tulsa, the museum was founded in 1989 by retired Air Force Colonel Robert Powell.
Powell, who spent 27 years in the military, uses his museum to honor veterans and to help individuals understand the high price of freedom.
“The museum features artifacts from the American Revolution up to Desert Storm,” he says.
“Not many young ones know about our past wars. I believe it is important to keep our military history alive.”
The museum’s new home at 112 N. Main will be 7,000 square feet compared to its current space of 2,000 square feet. Renovations are expected to be completed in September, and then volunteers will start moving in artifacts.
“We are ready for the extra space,” says Powell. “Our museum will be live, meaning that exhibits will be regularly changed out so that if a person visits again, they won’t see the same things. That’s what I dislike the most about many museums: static displays.”
Powell has been collecting artifacts for more than 60 years, providing him more than enough items to allow for regular exhibit changes. He has found artifacts on their way to the trash and in garage sales. He’s also received memorabilia from individuals with military ties and from local organizations, including the University of Tulsa.
The museum’s first display was in 2000 when Powell was approached by Memorial High School’s principal at the time, John McGinnis.
McGinnis is a Vietnam veteran and said that because the school was dedicated to veterans, he wanted war artifacts to be displayed.
Powell brought veterans to talk to students and showed videos. He displayed artifacts that students could touch, like soldiers’ lunchboxes, called mess kits. “We made sure students knew more about the wars when they left than when they first came,” he says.
When the museum left the school in 2006, Powell moved it to its current location in Tulsa at 6953 S. 66th E. Ave., near 71st Street and Sheridan Road.
The museum features uniforms worn by soldiers, including a German Gestapo uniform, helmet and boots. Many uniforms also have photographs of the soldiers who wore the clothing. There are airplane models, food rations, a full record of the 45th infantry, flags and a painting of a gunboat named the USS Tulsa.
Powell is eager to move into the museum’s new home. He expects the museum to be open for visitors before the end of the year.
Janet Pippins, director of the Broken Arrow Historical Museum, looks forward to a mutually-beneficial relationship between the historical museum and the military museum.
“The support from the community for the military museum is phenomenal,” she says. “There is great potential for the two museums on Main Street to work together.”
She hopes to see the museum bring people from within Oklahoma and outside of the state. “The military serves a broader audience than just Broken Arrow,” she says, “as opposed to the historical museum which focuses on Broken Arrow’s history.
“The military is very personal for those who served, and for their friends and family.”
The museum has received donations for its new building, including a $20,000 phone system from Murray Womble, a company that provides commercial building products. The president of Murray Womble is the wife to Brad Stanton, museum board member and volunteer. Stanton’s father served in the military.
Stanton has been helping with the museum since December. “We need to know what happened in military history so that we can keep it from happening again,” says Stanton.
Currently, Powell gives museum tours by appointment but that will all change once the new building opens.
“He has personal stories about almost every artifact,” Stanton says. “It’s an interesting tour. In Broken Arrow, we will have regular hours and work with the school system and the historical society. We will promote military education through the schools.”
American National Bank also donated nine flag poles to display in front of the museum.
On June 14, a Flag Day ceremony was held at the museum’s new location. “That’s a day meant to sit down and contemplate how we feel about the American flag,” Powell says. “So many kids don’t salute the flag nowadays; some don’t know what it stands for and don’t show it the proper respect.”
Flag Day is an annual ceremony for the military museum. This year, Powell made sure it took place at the museum’s new site because “I wanted this to be the day I could point to as the day the museum began,” he says.