Located on the East side of Houston among warehouses and industrial parks sits a unique museum.
There are no marble floors or animatronic displays but what the museum offers instead is more valuable in remembering our past.
The National United States Armed Forces Museum is more than a few displays about military life, it is a history lesson.
What makes this museum unique is the people that volunteer their time and efforts to insure the history of those that served won’t be forgotten. I had the privilege of getting a guided tour of the museum from Ed Farris, the current museum President.
Before you say, “well that must have been nice but what about the average visitor?”, let me say that Ed conducts a lot of the tours.
Ed Farris spent time in the US Marine Corp and the US Army obtaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Ed is also a retired Houston City Policeman have served for 27 years. Ed spent time going through the exhibits and giving the history of the US Armed Forces from WW1 to present.
The exhibits contain weapons, uniforms, posters and other military memorabilia in two rooms inside the main reception area. Instead of just walking around and looking at exhibits and reading the description on cards, Ed Farris gave a detailed history of the items, the various wars and what brought the countries into the wars, the men and women that have served, sometimes gave the ultimate sacrifice and the vehicles and equipment used by them.
While a lot of military museums have vehicles and equipment on display the US Armed Forces Museum has the distinct advantage of people like Ed who know the history of those items, how they evolved, how they were used and how they have impacted the military throughout the years.
The tour is more of a history lesson than a static display of weapons and vehicles and that is by design.Taken from their brochure the museum mission is to “preserve the military heritage of the armed forces and provide a meeting place where interested persons can learn and preserve the past, present and future of military history”.
A big part of the museum is the restoration efforts that take place. Old military vehicles, boats and aircraft that have been discarded are located and restored to their former working condition.
For those that spent time in the military you might feel as though you walked back into a building on some military post. The museum has a small office admin area with a walk up counter and a couple of rooms where various military items are on display. Once you reach the end of the hallway a door leads you into a huge warehouse area full of displays, military vehicles, helicopters and boats.
For some museums this might be enough, have some displays, have a few vehicles on display and let people walk through and spend a little time. You won’t have that type of experience here. What you will get is a guided history tour lasting anywhere from two to three hours.
This is not a museum dedicated to war, it is however a museum dedicated to keeping the history of the military alive. The museum hosts a lot of class tours where Ed and others relate the story of the military past and present to students and other groups. Historical research and lectures provide school districts, civic clubs and others a chance to get up close and personal with the past.
The museum is also very active in veteran’s parades, air shows, military reenactments and other events where the vehicles that have been restored are shown to the general public.
A tour of the museum gives the visitor a sense of what military life might have been like and the events that have occurred throughout history. The history of the vehicles and aircraft, how they were used and evolved over time are also explained.
Once the inside tour is complete you are taken to back yard where the restoration is done and bone yard of vehicles needing to be restored and those used for parts are kept.
The staff of the museum is very adept at tailoring the tours to fit the audience. While a group may be interested in a certain time period of historical events such as the Korean War or Viet Nam and the role the various vehicles took in battle, others might have their tours geared towards the restoration aspects or military artifacts and history behind them.
The museum operates as a non-profit and you might think a lot of corporations would be donating to the museum but according to Farris that’s not the case. The museum gets the majority of its money to operate through the yearly dues of its members and admission fees. The fact they have a loyal cadre of volunteers to do the restorations and keep the museum running helps. The next thing on the agenda for the museum is the need for a new roof and new signage out front to identify the museum.
If you ever find yourself in Houston and want to experience a museum of a different kind, then stop by the National United States Armed Forces Museum and I bet you will be like me and plan on coming back again.
The Museum is located at 8611 Wallisville Rd in Houston and open Wednesday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 6 pm and closed on Monday and Tuesday. The admission fee is $10 and free to those who have a military ID current or retired.