The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Iowa Gold Star Military Museum

Over 100 Years of Artifacts in One Place

To those seeking the highest office in the land, Iowa is where their political dreams rise or fall. Iowa is also about as Midwestern as it gets — it’s truly part of the American Heartland and the only U.S. state to be bordered on both east and west by rivers. While some coastal residents may consider it “flyover” country, Iowa has plenty of attractions.

For those in and around the Hawkeye State, or just driving through Iowa on Interstate 80, there’s a must-see museum for military history buffs and firearm enthusiasts alike. It’s the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum, and it easily wins a gold star for its presentation and inspiring displays.

It might seem surprising that Iowa would be home to a notable military museum, given that the state wasn’t the site of any major engagements. In fact, the Battle of Athens (a small skirmish that took place in August 1861 during the opening months of the Civil War) was fought in neighboring Missouri, as close as any front lines have been to Iowa. Yet the state is still rich with military history.

Given that it was part of the Louisiana Territory, it had been part of both the French and Spanish empires before becoming an American territory and later a state. It supported the Union during the Civil War and, due to efforts by Samuel J. Kirkwood, Iowa’s first wartime governor, the Hawkeye State sent more than 75,000 of its sons as volunteers. Sadly more than one-sixth of those who volunteered never returned home by the time the war ended in 1865.

During World War II, five more sons of Iowa would become famous for their service. The “Fighting Sullivan Brothers” of Waterloo, Iowa, were among the tens of thousands of men from the state to volunteer during World War II. All five brothers were killed in action after serving together on the USS Juneau (CL-52) in November 1942.

Iowa's role in the American military dates back to the early 19th century, and some of earliest settlers were in the first forts to be settled west of the Mississippi River - when the U.S. Army wore uniforms such as the one in this display.

Iowa’s role in the American military dates back to the early 19th century, and some of earliest settlers were in the first forts to be settled west of the Mississippi River – when the U.S. Army wore uniforms such as the one in this display.

It’s the sacrifices of all of these sons of Iowa for which the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum was built. The museum’s mission is stated clearly to “honor and depict the military experience of Iowa citizens in all wars, homeland defense, and Iowa service. The museum’s purpose is to collect, preserve, and exhibit materials that illustrate the story of Iowa’s military past from statehood to the present. The Iowa Gold Star Museum honors the heroic service of all Iowa veterans.”

Camp Dodge and the Iowa Gold Star Museum

Just driving up to the Iowa Gold Star Museum can be a thrill in itself, as it’s located in Camp Dodge, an active National Guard post that was first constructed in 1907. Named after Brigadier General Grenville M. Dodge, who organized Iowa’s first National Guard in 1856 and later served a term in Congress representing Iowa, the camp was used as a regional training center for U.S. forces in the First World War. It served as an induction center for new service members during World War II, and since that time has been a Guard and Reserve installation.

For those who like "old-school guns" it doesn't get much better than these 18th and early 19th century European pistols.

For those who like “old-school guns” it doesn’t get much better than these 18th and early 19th century European pistols.

It’s home to the National Maintenance Training Center, Joint Forces Headquarters, Iowa’s emergency operations center, a Military Entrance Processing Command installation, and the State Police academy.

The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum is a member organization and facility of the Army Museum System, and as noted it’s meant to honor the services of Iowa veterans. It does this in spades via its impressive collection, including 140,000 artifacts, documents, and photographs ranging from the Civil War era to present. Currently, just a fraction (some 1,000 items) are on permanent display, while many others are rotated so that repeat visitors can expect to see something new.

Seventy-five thousand sons of Iowa fought to preserve the Union during the Civil War, and their sacrifice is depicted in this display that features a vintage 10-pound Parrot Rifle on a field carriage.

Seventy-five thousand sons of Iowa fought to preserve the Union during the Civil War, and their sacrifice is depicted in this display that features a vintage 10-pound Parrot Rifle on a field carriage.

The entire collection, apart from the outside exhibits of military vehicles, is housed in the former headquarters building for the Iowa National Guard on Camp Dodge. It chronicles the contributions of Iowa veterans in state and national defense from the early 19th century, when Iowa was acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, to the present day. Nearly 60 percent of the items have come from Iowa military veterans through donations to the museum.

The bulk of the collection is made up of real artifacts, including a Civil War cannon, Indian War-era Gatling Gun, and a partially restored Vietnam War-era UH1 Huey helicopter. The museum even has a bicycle that was used by the Viet Cong to move equipment down the Ho Chi Minh Trial — and could likely be the only such example of one in any museum collection today.

Young men from the heart of the nation went off to Cuba, the last time "blue" was worn as an American combat uniform - and those soldiers brought superior firepower, such as this Model 1883 Gatling Gun!

Young men from the heart of the nation went off to Cuba, the last time “blue” was worn as an American combat uniform – and those soldiers brought superior firepower, such as this Model 1883 Gatling Gun!

One replica, which is understandable, is a full-size WWII Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. It was added to the collection in 2012 to honor the four Iowans who served in China as part of the Flying Tigers during World War II. The plane is a recreation of the one flown by Lt. Colonel William N. Reed, who served as the commander of the Chinese-American Composite Wing. Reed had destroyed a total of nine Japanese aircraft in aerial combat as well as eight additional Japanese aircraft on the ground. Reed was shot down and killed in December 1944.

“It’s a replica P-40B that has been suspended from the ceiling since October 2012, and it represents Reed’s aircraft as it would have appeared in January 1942,” said Michael Vogt, curator of the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum.

Seen here is a replica of the P-40 Warhawk flown by Lt. Colonel William N. Reed, who served as the commander of the Chinese-American Composite Wing during World War II.

Seen here is a replica of the P-40 Warhawk flown by Lt. Colonel William N. Reed, who served as the commander of the Chinese-American Composite Wing during World War II.

Lt. Colonel Reed's uniform and medals are also in the museum's collection.

Lt. Colonel Reed’s uniform and medals are also in the museum’s collection.

The Small Arms Collection

As the Iowa Gold Star Museum is part of the Army Museum System, it features one of the most impressive collections of military small arms found anywhere in the country. In total, the collection includes 324 small arms of foreign and domestic manufacture, explained Vogt.

This display includes one of the only surviving military bikes used by the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War. It was donated, along with the majority of the items in the collection, by an Iowa military veteran.

This display includes one of the only surviving military bikes used by the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War. It was donated, along with the majority of the items in the collection, by an Iowa military veteran.

These include numerous American rifles from the Civil War to modern day, as well as many small arms from the Second World War. The museum is fortunate to have pieces on loan from the United States military, including several vintage sniper rifles. Among the donated items is a working example of the German StG44, the world’s first assault rifle.

A rare live working example of the German StG44 assault rifle that is on loan from the U.S. military.

A rare live working example of the German StG44 assault rifle that is on loan from the U.S. military.

The collection’s World War II weapons include some impressive pieces such as a Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun, an M3 Grease Gun, and a Browning Automatic Rifle, while the Vietnam War-era firearms include the M14, two different versions of the AR-15/M16, and an M60 machinegun.

A Soviet PKM light machine gun that was captured by soldiers of the 186th Military Police Company during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

A Soviet PKM light machine gun that was captured by soldiers of the 186th Military Police Company during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

A full room is dedicated to the rest of the weapons collection and filled with more than 250 weapons in total — from a recoilless rifle to a Lewis gun, as well as several anti-tank weapons and bazookas. Among the sniper rifles in the museum’s collection are a Springfield, an M14, and a very rare WWII-era German G-43, still considered one of the most effective semi-automatic sniper rifles ever created.

The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum is truly worthy of a gold star in excellence.

Here's just some of the 250-plus weapons that are now part of the collection of the Iowa Gold Star Museum.

Here’s just some of the 250-plus weapons that are now part of the collection of the Iowa Gold Star Museum.

Iowa Gold Star Military Museum

Address:
Camp Dodge
7105 Northwest 70th Avenue
Johnston, Iowa 50131-1824

Regular Hours
Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Saturday
10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

(Closed Sundays, holidays, and holiday weekends)

Admission:
Free (Donations accepted and appreciated)

Phone:
(515) 252-4531

URL:
www.iowanationalguard.com/History/Museum/Pages/home.aspx

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