Across the Midwest, there are countless memorials, monuments, and museums that honor America’s veterans, ranging from the ragtag groups of rebels that won the American Revolutionary War to the men and women who serve all over the world today. At these museums, groups can journey through America’s defining moments, and appreciate the camaraderie and acts of wartime valor of the Heartland’s veterans. Expert guides, some of whom may be veterans themselves, guide groups through the past and can offer insights into the lives and lessons of America’s heroes.

National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, tells the stories of the U.S. Air Force (USAF), which last year celebrated its 100-year anniversary. With more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles plus thousands of artifacts spread across 19 acres of indoor exhibits, this is the world’s largest military aviation museum. In its collection, groups can discover presidential aircraft used by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, to name a few. It also has galleries that offer an in-depth look at the Korean War, the Cold War, and the USAF’s airlift capabilities, which have offered support to servicepeople, prisoners of war, and hostages around the world.

Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is an excellent place to appreciate the engineering accomplishments of the U.S. military and the individuals pioneering the future of American aviation. This unique museum features more than 100 rare and historic air and space artifacts, amusement park-style rides, and full-motion flight simulators for an immersive, historical experience. Learn about the museum’s two restored Navy aircraft, which were rescued from the depths of Lake Michigan after 65 years of being submerged, or see exhibits that highlight the Apollo 11 mission, trailblazing female pilots and astronauts, technological advancements during the World War II era, and much more.

Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum, Kalamazoo, Michigan;
Credit: Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum

Many states have museums that honor hometown heroes. Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin, preserves the stories of the state’s veterans through permanent exhibits on the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the Philippine War, and the U.S. Navy’s Great White Fleet led by the USS Wisconsin (BB-9). The museum’s collection of more than 2,800 interviews with veterans from World War I to the pres- ent allows guests to hear history through the words of the people who lived it.

In Frankenmuth, the Michigan Heroes Museum describes itself as “a shrine to ordinary lives, caught up in and sometimes ended by the extraordinary experience of war.” Dedicated to Michigan’s veterans, it holds more than 900 exhibits that each focus on one specific Michigan soldier, marine, sailor, airman, or astronaut, making for a moving and intimate museum experience. The Michigan Heroes Museum is also home to the largest collection of Medals of Honor out of any museum in the country and offers Heroes Next Door educational lectures that can be tailored to speak to the military experiences and interests of your group members. A few other examples include the Minnesota Air National Guard Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota; Iowa Aviation Heritage Museum in Ankeny, Iowa; and the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes, Indiana.

Make way to Chicago, Illinois, to visit the National Veterans Art Museum, which is designed to “inspire dialogue of the impact of war through the collection, preservation, and exhibition of art by military veterans.” The museum was founded by the Vietnam Veterans Art Group at a time when many arts institutions were unwilling to showcase controversial art related to the Vietnam War. The museum created a space for veterans and artists to express themselves, and today it features works by 115 artists who served in conflicts from WWII to the modern Global War on Terror.

By Katherine Lawless

Main Image: National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio; Credit: Ken LaRock