Museums use artifacts to recount stories about the human experience, and war is a major part of our history. Across the U.S., there are hundreds of museums, large and small, with military collections that document the country’s wartime involvement. Many of these pay homage to those who served, but they also provide opportunities for visitors to see the equipment and the technology needed to fight a war. In recent decades, some museums have shifted the focus of their displays to better reflect the impacts of war on society, as well.
In 1921, city leaders and citizens stood on the site to celebrate the construction of the Liberty Memorial, a classical Egyptian Revival-style monument to the men and women who served in the Great War between 1914 and 1919. However, the 80,000 square-foot museum didn’t open its doors until 2006. The museum displays original documents and objects from World War I and is the only museum dedicated to sharing the stories of The War to End All Wars through the eyes of those who served.
One of the nation’s newer war museums, the Museum of the American Revolution opened in 2017. Exhibits re-create how American colonists became revolutionaries and initiated a rebellion that would result in the birth of the United States. On display are early documents depicting the roots of personal liberty organizations, including the first anti-slavery society in revolutionary Philadelphia. Visitors will also see a reproduction of the Boston Liberty Tree, the site where the first whisperings and plans for the revolt occurred.
More than 46 million people have visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which founders designated as a living memorial, since it opened in 1993. Throughout the museum, visitors will see the dangers of unchecked hatred that resulted in the Holocaust. On the second floor, find artifacts and photos of the deportations of Jews to the camps, along with oral testimonies from Auschwitz. On the final floor, displays hone in on the resistance efforts and the liberation of captives from Nazi camps following the Allied victory.
War history experts say it’s one of the top WWII museums in the world. Broadway set designers worked alongside tech gurus to design cutting-edge sound and visual effects for the displays. Each visitor receives a radio-frequency identification dog tag which provides an immersive experience at each of the interactive kiosk displays. Real-life veterans provide detailed accounts and firsthand perspectives of WWII experiences. The museum’s displays spread out across 33,000 square feet and two levels of painstakingly crafted environments to provide an authentic and realistic experience of the Second World War.
At the National Museum of the Pacific War, visitors will see displays from its 55,000-item collection from major battles in the Pacific Theatres of Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and Oceania. Artifacts include uniforms, vehicles, and weaponry. Exhibits provide historical looks into Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima, as well as the bloodiest battle during the Pacific War: Okinawa.
While other war museums spotlight military efforts, this museum provides a closer look at what everyday life in America was like during WWII. A special exhibit highlights the roles women played on the homefront during the war. An art exhibit features the paintings of serviceman Charles J. Miller, a private who fought in the Pacific Theater during the war and used a children’s watercolor set to create 700 pieces depicting what he saw on whatever he had available — including cigarette cartons and large pieces of paper.
Special and airborne operations have played significant roles in times of war and peace. The Airborne and Special Operations Museum, which opened in August 2000, shares the stories and feats of the members of these elite teams. The institution is just eight miles from Fort Bragg, one of the largest military installations in the world and home to around 10% of all army forces. The museum displays hundreds of rare and significant artifacts from the 80-year history of these special operations units.
Flight enthusiasts, war history fans, and planespotters alike make their way to this desert museum. The displays showcase not only historical American aircraft, but also rare fighting planes, including one of the last B-24 Liberators in the world. Visitors will also see original airbase barracks, helicopters, and missiles. There's even a separate museum dedicated to the work and history of the 390th Bomb Group.
Visitors can climb aboard three historic wartime ships when they visit this museum in suburban Charleston. Tour the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, the USS Laffey destroyer, and the USS Clamagore submarine. A three-acre Vietnam Experience exhibit immerses visitors in a realistic scenario of a base under threat of attack, complete with a river patrol boat, a Huey helicopter, and other military equipment from the Vietnam War.
Historians interested in American involvement in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II’s Pacific Theater will find an abundance of audio-visual experiences and military hardware at this museum on the beautiful island of Oahu. The institution also features a Gallery of Heroes, which recognizes Hawaiian citizens who earned the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross while serving the nation. Displays provide riveting historical looks into Hawaii’s rich military heritage and warfare throughout its history.
This tribute to U.S. Marines sits on a 135-acre site near Quantico, the Marine Corps Base in Virginia, about 35 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Inside, find 240 years of Marine Corps history and artifacts, including uniforms, vehicles, weapons, flags, medals, art, and aircraft. Also in the museum’s collection is the second American flag that troops raised over Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi and a baton presented to John Philip Sousa when he left the Marine Corps Band.
Whether you’re a war history buff or not, the realistic landscapes and recreations of famous battle scenes throughout American history at this museum will astound you. Monuments, artifacts, and interactive, multimedia presentations honor the service of those who defended the country against threats on the ground. Visitors can also tour the Ranger Hall of Honor, a gallery that celebrates 200 U.S. Army Rangers and displays the weapons and uniforms worn by the group from World War II to Grenada.
Dedicated to preserving the history of the U.S. Navy SEALs, the museum sits on the training grounds for the original combat divers, the Frogmen. The SEALs are largely responsible for the resurgence of the Combat Assault Dog program, and the adjacent K9 Memorial honors the valiant dogs who died in the line of duty. Visitors can also see a Mark V Special Operations Craft and a UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter up-close, along with other equipment and vehicles the SEALs have used.
Flight test research is a fascinating and essential part of America’s military history. Edwards Air Force Base is home to the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, which has 41 of its 80 historic aircraft on display, along with aircraft propulsion systems, test reports, technical drawings, and personal memorabilia from the 75-year history of flight testing.
The mighty Intrepid withstood five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike during World War II, then continued its service throughout the Cold War and into the Vietnam War. Today, the aircraft carrier is a museum on the Hudson River in New York City. Visitors can stroll its massive deck, perusing more than 20,000 artifacts and famous aircraft, such as the supersonic Concorde and the space shuttle Enterprise.