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The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Indiana Military Museum

A Historical Gem in the Heartland

While not as well known as Saratoga or Yorktown, another highly significant battle of the American Revolution was fought not in the 13 colonies, but on what was then the frontier near present-day Vincennes, Indiana. The Siege of Fort Vincennes is noted by historians for its daring wintertime march where a small American force was able to defeat a British outpost.

It was the western-most battle in North America during the Revolution, and the 172 militiamen under George Rogers Clark successfully took the British fort and suffered no casualties. More importantly, this victory was used to encourage the alliance with France.

The main exhibit hall of the Indiana Military Museum — space is at a premium, but this just means there’s literally something to see everywhere you look.

Today, Vincennes isn’t only home to an impressive memorial commemorating that battle, but the city is also home to the equally impressive Indiana Military Museum. It’s dedicated to those Indiana residents who have served in the military but also to fostering the memory, understanding, and appreciation of U.S. military history.

The museum’s collection spans artifacts from the American Revolution to the modern day, and it regularly hosts traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian Institution and other museums. It’s a member of the Association of Indiana Museums and continues to work closely on shared exhibits with area museums including the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science, the USS LST-325 Ship Memorial Museum, and the Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

A fully restored A-26 Invader. This plane is dedicated to Lyman Eugene Lance by family, friends, classmates, and former football players.

From Humble Beginnings
Unlike many other notable American military museums, this one isn’t located on an active military base — yet visitors who approach it might be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Its grounds actually look much like a small fort, and outside the museum’s main building is a vehicle garden that contains numerous aircraft, tanks, and other vehicles.

This museum is truly a regional treasure — one that has been around for 34 years, having been incorporated in 1984 under the leadership of Knox County Superior Court Judge Jim R. Osborne, who has been a collector of military artifacts since he was 9 years old. Much of the core collection has been amassed by Osborne, who now serves as the museum’s director and curator.

It must be remembered that while Indiana is very much in the “heartland” today, it was once on the frontier — and this fact is highlighted in this exhibit focused on the Wars on the Plains, including the rare U.S. Cavalry frock coat and dress helmet.

The museum has been at its current location, adjacent to the Vincennes/Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau, for the past five years. It recently completed the first stages of a multiyear expansion.

Housed in the main building is about 20 to 30 percent of the permanent collection. To say the building is stuffed to the rafters is a huge understatement. Display cabinets flank the walls, displays fill the main hall, and there’s hardly an inch of open wall space, yet Osborne and his team managed to keep it presentable.

An unusual design that never really proved effective was the horse-drawn machine gun cart. This one features a British Vickers machine gun.

There’s so much to see that repeat visitors are likely to see something they might’ve missed before. Add to the fact that the collection is regularly rotated, and this is one museum that deserves multiple visits.

It’s home to several General Officer uniform displays, including jackets worn by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Colin Powell. As comedian Red Skelton grew up in Vincennes, the museum also has several items that had belonged to this native son including his World War II walking-out uniform.

A French Chauchat light machine gun, one of the first mobile infantry weapons. While largely considered a poor design, it must be remembered that it was revolutionary 100 years ago!

Firepower on Display
As collections of firearms go, the Indiana Military Museum has numerous standout pieces, including many 19th and early 20th century firearms from the wars on the frontier, the American Civil War through the First World War. The collection includes many notable automatic weapons including a German MG08 machine gun, French Chauchat light machine gun, and even a WWI German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank turret display.

While all of the weapons have been deactivated for safety and legal reasons, nearly all are original to the period. The World War II and Cold War small-arm collection includes all the expected firearms and a few that are rarely seen even in other museums. This includes a De Lisle “Commando Carbine” produced by the Ford Motor Company in England and chambered in 45 ACP. It was designed specifically for use by Commandos and other elite forces and featured a built-in suppressor.

The British Vickers machine gun was an improved design of the classic Maxim water-cooled machine gun and was used by the British in both World Wars.

The lethality of crude weapons is also noted in one exhibit of Vietnam War small arms, which highlights how the seemingly low-tech Vietcong produced crossbows powerful enough that the bolts could penetrate an American M1 helmet and liner. That particular item was donated by an American veteran, also an Indiana native, who fortunately wasn’t seriously injured when he and his unit were ambushed by the VC.

An extremely rare sight: a Japanese Type 1 Chi-He medium tank, one of 170 that were produced during World War II. That tank is currently on loan from the U.S. Marine Corps.

While the museum is truly tight on space — at least until the planned expansion is completed — there was still room to bring in a couple of larger exhibits into the main exhibit hall. These include a World War I horse-drawn machine gun cart with a British Vickers machine gun, one of the few such examples to have survived to this day. In addition, the collection includes a Japanese Type 1 Chi-He medium tank, one of 170 that were produced during World War II. That tank is currently on loan from the U.S. Marine Corps.

An American 75mm World War I-era artillery piece. While the museum doesn’t allow visitors to climb on these items, it does allow visitors to get truly up close and even get a feel for these weapons of war.

Outdoor Displays
As noted, the museum features numerous impressive outdoor exhibits including a World War II C-47 transport aircraft and various other planes and tanks. Among the “prized possessions” of the museum is its F-4 Phantom Fighter Jet, which entered service in 1960 and played a critical role in the Vietnam War. It was this model of plane that has the unique distinction of being the last U.S. fighter jet to achieve “Ace” status in the 20th century.

An assortment of World War II small arms that were used by the Allied forces, including a De Lisle
“Commando” Carbine (top). Produced by the Ford Motor Company in England and chambered in 45 ACP, it was designed specifically for use by Commandos and other elite forces and featured a built-in suppressor.

The museum’s grounds are also home to the USS Grayback Memorial, which honors veterans of all eras including submarine crews. This memorial features a World War II torpedo in recognition of the USS Grayback, a Tambor-class submarine that successfully completed 10 patrols during World War II, but was sunk with all souls on board on February 27, 1944. It was one of 52 subs lost in the war. To memorialize not only the Grayback and its crew but all submariners, each state was assigned a Submarine Memorial, with this one being for Indiana. Each year submariners from the state participate in a memorial to honor the Grayback’s crew and all those who served on subs during World War II.

A display of various captured weapons used by the Vietcong and PAVN/NVA in Vietnam including a PPS-43, Chinese SKS, AK-47, captured French MAS-36 bolt action rifle, Soviet SKS, and an RPG-2 rocket launcher. This display also includes an American M1 steel helmet that was penetrated by bolts fired from a VC crossbow.

Among the items that’ll soon roll out to the collection after going through a restoration is an American M1917 tank, the first mass-produced American armored vehicle. It’s a license-built near-copy of the French Renault FT, and this example has been fully restored — an effort that Osborne said required serious effort. As parts are impossible to find, much of the hull and treads were replicated to exact standards, yet because it’s a restored item, it has been made to be fully serviceable and will be used in living history events.

Indiana may not be on the coast, but many of its sons served in the Navy, and there are displays that highlight the roles these sailors played during World War II.

History Lives On
That Model 1917 light tank will roll out on the grounds of the Indiana Military Museum, which features its own “private” battlefield for living history events. Multiple times a year the museum hosts World War I reenactments and has created a replica trench line and “no-man’s-land.”

Today, the Indiana Military Museum is staffed by full-time volunteers and supported by private donations. It’s a passion project, but clearly many people are truly passionate about the museum’s goal to preserve the objects that tell the story of the military history of Indiana and its veterans.

Even if you don’t “Like Ike,” you’ll be impressed to find one of his four World War II-era walking-out tunics on display at the Indiana Military Museum.

Indiana Military Museum

Address
715 S. 6th St.
PO Box 977
Vincennes, IN 47591

Phone
(812) 882-1941

URL
indymilitary.com

Hours of Operation
General Hours:
March 1 – November 30
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (all times Eastern)
Winter Hours: December 1 – February 28
The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Closed Monday.

Admission
Adults: $5
Veterans and Seniors (over age 62): $4
WWII Veterans: Free
Children ages 6-18: $3
Children under 6: Free


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