Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Tanks for the Memories

If you are a fan of military history, this museum in Hudson, MA, is a must-see place to visit. It's relatively new and opened less than 2 years ago. Nothing seen from this exterior view prepares visitors for what's inside this very large facility. Certainly, we were surprised.

The American Heritage Museum (AHM) is housed in a building space that covers over 65,000 square feet in Hudson, MA. Its address is listed as Main Street, but, you won't see it on that road as it's set very far off the road, a good quarter of a mile in. After seeing the sign and turning, we wondered if we had read it right because we drove up such a long access road. 

Unless you are specifying looking for this museum, like we were, its purpose isn't obvious. Unlike other museums, there's no identifying signage on the outside of the building, which resembles a massive warehouse. Once we entered, it became very clear that this would be quite an experience. And, it did not disappoint. The museum showcases an amazing number of tanks, automobiles, aircraft, and other wartime machinery with interactive exhibits, short films, and helpful docents. As with any museum, there's an admission fee, discounted for veterans, seniors, active military and children (although this is not a museum for the very young.)

The AHM is a branch of the Collings Foundation, headquartered in Stowe, MA, a non-profit educational institution founded in 1979 and dedicated to the preservation, exhibition and interaction of historical artifacts. (Since 1989, a major focus of the Foundation has been the Wings of Freedom Tour of WWII aircraft. In 32 years, the tour has made more than 3,500 visits to airports across the U.S. and stopped in Nashua, NH, again this past July.)

Getting permission to build the museum became contentious in 2015 when the Stowe Planning Board rejected the Foundation's building application. The board was concerned about placing such a large facility on land zoned residentialThe Foundation cited a part of Massachusetts General Law (the Dover Amendment) that exempts agricultural, religious, and educational corporations from some zoning restrictions stating the museum’s purpose was completely educational. An agreement reached in July 2017 allowed construction to start in 2018 and the museum opened in May 2019.

After paying admission, we entered a room with bench seating to view an informative film about the nation’s early history and involvement in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. This introduction included re-enactments and famous scenes showing America's early battles for freedom.
When the film ended, doors opened leading visitors to the WWI Trench Experience. This presentation is presented in a room-size diorama and we stood in a trench that runs the length of the room. Images are projected to recreate Western front trenches at the Battle of Saint Mihiel, the only offensive launched solely by the U. S. Army in WW I. The exhibit's narrator represents nurse Helen Dore Boylston of New Bedford, MA, who nursed the wounded at a front-line field hospital and wrote about her experiences in a 1927 book, Sister: The War Diary of a Nurse.
Show car used by Adolf Hitler for parades
Next, comes the War Clouds exhibit which provides an educational interpretation of the rise of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Exhibits here show the Nazi rise to power, invasions through Europe and Imperial Japan’s attacks through China and the Pacific. Exhibits include soldier's uniforms and other historical items, including the show car Adolf Hitler used for parades. This exhibit ends in 1941 with a film sequence showing the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Afterwards, we walked through to an enormous, aircraft-hangar sized space with a viewing balcony. It ran along much of the second floor giving an overall view of the entire main floor.

Soon after the U.S. entered WW II, large and small companies changed production to support the war effort. Automobile maker Ford focused production on aircraft, primarily B-24 Liberators, the most mass produced aircraft in American history. The Cadillac division of General Motors made components and engines for tanks and armored vehicles. The company also stopped all civilian car production for the Buick model and switched to making engines for the Liberators and tanks and armored vehicles as well. 
Military artifacts are arranged chronologically and grouped under major campaigns and theaters of war. There are numerous tanks that have been completely refurbished and now look more like showroom models than the weapons of war that they once were. 
More than half of the items displayed are from the WW II era. Also represented are WW I, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, Iraq War and others. The majority of display items are American, German, Russian, or British. Many of these restored tanks and vehicles represent the only ones on public display in North America; most include photos of the item in use during a specific conflict.

Where Did All the Artifacts Come From?
Many once were in the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation collection in Portola Valley, CA, founded in 1975 by Jacques Littlefield. It closed in 2018 after his death, and many items went to other museums. Littlefield, a Stanford University graduate and former Hewlett Packard engineer had amassed a $30 million collection of over 240 military vehicles that included 30 tanks, 13 armored personnel carriers, 12 tank destroyers, as well as reconnaissance vehicles, trucks, motorcycles, artillery, and the propeller from the Lusitania (a British ocean liner sunk in May 1915 by a German U-boat)It was considered the world’s largest privately held collection.
Littlefield had the fortune needed for his interest. He was a multi-millionaire whose great-grandfather founded the Utah Construction Co., which helped build the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams. His father was a member of the Forbes 400 Richest People in America. Littlefield acquired and restored the vehicles along with a team of top mechanics. Most were stored in a private museum on his 470-acre CA ranch where he held open houses. Adhering to state and federal laws, none of tanks had functional firing apparatus.
1944 Panther tank after it was pulled from a Polish river bottom

Panther tank after thousands of hours of restoration
The pride of Littlefield's collection was a 1944 German Panzer V Panther tank scuttled after it fell through the ice and sank in a Polish river during WW II. This tank was one of the most feared of its day with frontal armor and a long-barreled gun which destroyed Allied tanks at long ranges. The 49-ton tank was recovered after 50 years on the river bottom. Mechanics worked five years to restore it by rebuilding the hull, fabricating armor, rewiring, and rebuilding the engine. It was completed in 2009, weeks after Littlefield's death from colon cancer at age 59. Today, it's the most completely restored and fully operational Panther and the only one on display anywhere in the U.S. It's also one of the rarest military vehicles in the world.

In keeping with Littlefield’s wishes to preserve the collection, his family donated a large number of tanks, armored vehicles and other military items to the Collings Foundation. Some of these were auctioned off netting over $9 million that funded creation of the AHM to display those remaining plus other military artifacts. The AHM displays over 85 vehicles from the Littlefield collection.

We were able to walk through the large space at our own pace without restrictions or time limits. Volunteer docents, which include veterans, were on hand to answer questions and provide further information. Short films and exhibit displays provided more details.
Military artifacts are not the only items on display. There are several planes as well. 
The museum also address more recent conflicts such as The Cold War displaying a piece of  the Berlin Wall and also The War on Terror with a film showing the attacks and collapse of the World Trade Centers in NYC. A twisted beam from one of the twin towers is part of this exhibit.

The AHM is a hidden gem that’s truly unique even to visitors like ourselves who are not deep into military history. We found it difficult not to be impressed with the armaments of warfare after touring this facility. The presentations were excellent considering the grim subject matter. Most likely we won't make a return visit as there are so many places to visit and time is always limited, but we will highly recommend it to others looking for a very unusual New England museum.

The post title is a tribute to American entertainer Bob Hope who made 57 tours for the United Service organizations (USO) between 1941 and 1991 entertaining active military members worldwide. In 1997, the U.S. Congress passed a bill making Hope an honorary veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. His signature theme song was Thanks for the Memories introduced in a 1938 film, The Big Broadcast of 1938, and sung by Hope and Shirley Ross. It was composed by  composed by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin and won the Academy Award for best Original Song.


My name is Erika. said...

This looks like something my husband would like. It looks really well done too. I'm going to mention it to him. How long did it take? I wonder if we could squeeze it in after visiting my mom in Worcester. Thanks for sharing Dorothy! Hope you're having a nice week. Hugs-Erika

Anvilcloud said...

It must be huge because most of those large relics appear to be well spaced.

Bijoux said...

That looks like an amazing collection and something for everyone. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the Air Force museum in Dayton, but we were all impressed when visiting it a few years back.

MadSnapper said...

this is spectacular and bob and I would both love it. the difference is, he would stop and read the stuff and i would wander without reading. I love seeing things like this and this is really amazing to have that much in a museum.. fantastic is what i rate it

robin andrea said...

Wow! That is quite a museum. I think if I lived nearby I would like to walk around and look at all this history. Thank you for going and sharing your photos here.

CrystalChick said...

While we're not interested all that much in military history, and this wouldn't be a museum we'd probably ever visit, I must say your presentation was quite interesting and informative. Just enough history/photos of this American Heritage Museum to make even those not necessarily into things like this, appreciative that this facility is available to the public. I'm glad you both enjoyed the experience of it, and thank you for sharing some details. ~Mary

Jon said...

I initially didn't think this would be of much interest to me, but it is really quite fascinating. It's definitely a very unique and unusual collection. The tanks are impressive - - but I was smitten by the last Buick and Hitler's show car.

Edna B said...

Awesome! What an impressive collection of pieces of history. Thank you for sharing. I have to agree with another reader, Hitler's car is super impressive! You have a wonderful day my friend, hugs, Edna B.

Vee said...

That is fabulous! What a treasure hidden down that long access road. Bob Hope surely was himself a national treasure when one thinks of all he did through the years to support the forces.

DUTA said...

Heavy topic and heavy exhibits! You've done a marvelous job describing the place!
When in Russia and Serbia I visited the military exhibits displayed outdoors. I felt the stuff indoors was too much for me as en elderly person.

Red said...

You had a fascinating tout. The technology of war changes very rapidly.

Bindu said...

Very nice pictures and great explanation!

William Kendall said...

This is the sort of museum that fascinates me.

Rita said...

There was a ot more inside than I ever expected! :)

Margaret D said...

You put a lot of work into this post but then you always do for your post. Thank you and what a magic place to visit and see what it has to hold.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

It looks like it is very well done, but the last thing I want to do is traipse around looking at all the ways we have found to kill and maim each other - always,of course, with god on our side!

DeniseinVA said...

Great post! I would enjoy walking around here for a few hours.

baili said...

wow this was dense and very brief sharing about newly opened museum dear Dorothy .

i am really impressed with how Littlefield helped this place to grwo so quickly into such powerful and majestic introductory museum where people can learn so much about history of America and it's survival throughout the years ,this is amazing and inspiring indeed.

story of tank discovered from the bottom of the river after years had me .
thank you for informative and intriguing sharing my friend!
blessings to you and family!

Rob K said...

Excellent post! My dad was a WWII veteran and I would love to visit this museum.

Tanks for the information!