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Museum of Missouri Military History

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Showing You One of the Show-Me State’s Finest Firearms Exhibits

Missouri’s unofficial nickname is “The Show-Me State,” which according to tradition represents the character of its residents. To this, it means that Missourians aren’t gullible, nor are they to believe without adequate evidence. Thus it’s fitting that just outside the state capital in Jefferson City at the Missouri National Guard’s Ike Skelton Training Center is the Museum of Missouri Military History. Anyone who disputes the state’s role in America’s military history need only visit this impressive facility to be reassured that Missourians have played a crucial role.

A World War II-era Sherman tank — nicknamed “Mighty Mo” (after the Battleship with the famous moniker) with a 76mm cannon. It’s one of several impressive military vehicles in the museum’s garden.

The museum, which is fairly new, being founded less than 20 years ago — is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of Missouri’s military history and exhibits range from the post-Revolutionary War era, when the state was still essentially the vast frontier, to the modern day. Particular attention is devoted to residents of the state and former National Guardsman who achieved national fame, including Captain Charles A. Lindbergh and President Harry S. Truman.

From Expansion to World Wars and Beyond

Originally housed in one of the oldest buildings from the original Algoa property on which the National Guard’s Ike Skelton Training Center is located, the collection quickly outgrew the 1930s-era building and was moved to the mechanical school, where the National Guard Resiliency Center is also housed today. The move to what had been a grease-stained maintenance shop not only allowed for a larger collection, but, in fact, has enabled the museum to house larger pieces, including a Vietnam War-era Huey helicopter.

“While we still had to take the rotors off to move it, the fact that this building has a crane on the ceiling allowed us to move the Huey,” explained Douglas L. Sheley, curator and historian at the Museum of Missouri Military History. “That crane has come in handy with moving the cannons and other large objects as well.”

This recent expansion, completed in December 2014, has allowed more of the collection to be on permanent display. There are some 10,000 pieces in total and nearly 5 percent are available to be seen by the public in various exhibits, which rotate regularly — both to ensure return visitors see something new and to help preserve the more delicate artifacts.

A Bell AH-1 Cobra, the backbone of the Army’s attack helicopter throughout the Vietnam War.

Today, the collection chronicles the history of the region from circa 1808 when Missouri was on the edge of the vast unknown. The museum chronicles the westward expansion, while there is also an emphasis on the American Civil War, in which Missouri played a crucial role. The collection also highlights what Missouri residents contributed to more distant conflicts, including the Spanish American War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and even the Global War on Terror.

The role that Missouri’s sons and daughters played throughout these conflicts is prominent, and many of the museum’s artifacts were donated by Missouri residents. These include a Civil War uniform, which belonged to Lieutenant Higdon and has been painstakingly restored and preserved; a World War I Marine “Devil Dog” uniform that belonged to William Steele, a proud Missouri son; and a Vietnam War “tunnel rat” display with a rare CAR-15 assault rifle. These are just a few gems in a collection full of unique treasures.

A Model 1841, 6-pound field gun and caissons, which was produced in 1854 by the C.A. Company and used in the American Civil War.

One piece in particular — a roll for Company A 35th Infantry Regiment Missouri Volunteers — was found at a flea market and later donated to the museum. It was cleaned and preserved by the Missouri State Archives last year and is truly a welcome addition to the collection, as it’s one of only a handful of period military rolls known from the period.

In addition to the Huey, the museum is home to two other vehicles inside, including a 1952-dated Willys Jeep painstakingly restored by members of the Missouri National Guard’s Combined Service Maintenance Shop, and a 1927 Chrysler staff car that was reportedly found in a haystack in 1946. Members of the Missouri National Guard surmised that possibly German POWs hid it in a possible future escape attempt that never materialized. It was completely restored in 2010 and has been on exhibit in the museum since 2015. Two bullet holes remain in the driver-side hood to help convey some of the vehicle’s history, and it’s believed that the vehicle was shot during marksmanship training in the 1930s.

The role of Missouri’s sons in Vietnam is highlighted in exhibits that feature donated uniforms as well as an early M-14 automatic rifle — the main battle rifle of the U.S. Army before the adoption of the M-16.

As space is at a premium, some objects are too big to even fit inside the building. As such, visitors don’t even need to venture into the former maintenance building to be impressed, as outside the facility are several notable exhibits including F-15 Eagle and F-4 Phantom II fighter aircraft; numerous tanks, including a World War II-era Sherman; and most impressively of all, an original and maintained C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

Weapons of War

In addition to the remarkable collection of military vehicles, the Museum of Missouri Military History has several notable weapons in its exhibits. This includes a 1915 American 75mm field gun with an interesting backstory.

“This gun had been displayed outdoor for years and had several coats of paint, which needed to be removed,” says Sheley. “We were able to clean the gun down to the original brass parts, but we needed help with the wheels.”

An original WWII Japanese mine and grenade training kit. This was used to help prepare American soldiers to better understand the ordnance fielded by the enemy.

The original wood-spoke wheels had rotted out, and even in Missouri there are few professional wheelwrights trained in restoring cannon wheels. Instead, the museum turned to members of the Amish community for help. However, given that the cannon was a weapon of war, the Amish refused to take on the job. The wheels were only restored when they were removed from the cannon.

The result is incredible, and Sheley hopes the same level of attention can be paid to the museum’s other field gun, a French 75mm cannon made in Paris in 1918. It’s the same make and model that then Captain Harry Truman used during WWI. While its wheels are original, it sits on supports to assist in preserving the wheels.

These rare field guns aren’t the only pieces that will capture the attention of military history buffs or firearms enthusiasts, however.

A complete Vietnam War-era Huey helicopter is on display within the museum.

While the collection of small arms isn’t vast, what’s on display is noteworthy and includes an M1895 Colt Machinegun, a weapon that earned the moniker “potato digger” due to unusual operating mechanism; a German MP18, one of the world’s first submachine guns; and a rare example of a Steyr-Hahn 1919 pistol. The museum also has a nearly complete WWII Japanese mine and grenade training kit with original manuals.

The weapons, along with most of the collection, came from veterans who sought to ensure that these items would be preserved and shared for future generations in the museum’s collection.

A display of Korean War-era items, including a captured Soviet-made Mosin Nagant rifle and PPSh-41 submachine gun, each of which were widely used by Communist Chinese and North Korean forces in the conflict.

Correspondence, Communications, and Clergy

Military museums do tend to be about the tools of war, so it’s easy to forget that soldiers often required consolation and comfort, not to mention news and information.

The Museum of Missouri Military History is unique in that it has two notable displays that cover these largely forgotten aspects of soldiering. One is on battlefield communication and features numerous war correspondent items, while the other includes rare items from the military clergy. The former includes field radios, desks, typewriters, and even a mimeograph machine — an early form of copier — all of which were used to disseminate information and news to soldiers in the field. The other exhibit features a near complete chaplain’s uniform, period religious materials, and even a field organ for services. Sheley explained that while the various chaplain items came from different individuals, it’s one of the most extensive collections of American military chaplain items in any museum in the country.

Communication is crucial in modern warfare, but things were a bit different back in WWII. The museum has a great collection of vintage communication and war correspondent items as part of its permanent collection.

The museum also highlights the ongoing role the Missouri National Guard provides today as a disaster relief unit, as it’s typically among the first responders in times of need. An exhibit highlights this role that Missouri’s sons and daughters continue to play.

Finally, while many in the State of Missouri would no doubt love to have “Mighty Mo,” the Battleship Missouri, steam up the Mississippi River, the truth is that it’s is impossible. Instead the famous warship, where the Japanese government formally surrendered at the end of WWII, will remain in Hawaii. Yet there’s still a small presence in the Museum of Missouri Military History and fittingly so.

Museum of Missouri Military History
2405 Logistics Road
Jefferson City, MO 65101
(573) 638-9603
Hours of Operation:
Mon. – Sat.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Closed all federal holidays
Admission: free

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