I’d driven by Michigan’s Military and Space Heroes Museum many times on visits to Frankenmuth, but never stopped in, and now that I have, I realize it’s a very special place that many more people need to discover.
Having seen the big plane out front, what I expected to find inside was more of the same. Planes, trucks, uniforms, and weapons are the usual fare at military exhibits, but this is different. This museum is not focused on the necessary tools of warfare, this surprising gem is focused on extraordinary feats of ordinary men and women, who have answered the call to defend our nation in foreign wars and explore our universe through space.
Throughout the structure you will find individual exhibits highlighting the service of a Michigan native and/or current and former residents of the state. The items on display have often been donated by the veteran’s own family. More than six hundred such collections now exist, though the venue can only actively display a couple hundred at any given time.
I was fortunate enough to meet 94-year old Jack on my visit. He is a World War II vet with an indomitable spirit and adorable great grandchildren, who had accompanied him to the museum. Jack’s story was not on display that day, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t there to demonstrate his bravery to the kids, he was there to honor his fellow heroes, and make sure that his family knew about and understood the sacrifices that Michigan families had made for generations to defend our homeland.
Like most members of what has been rightfully coined “the greatest generation,” Jack downplayed his own service and sacrifice stating that he “ONLY served three years.” He even joked that his arm gets tired every time he visits because he surmises everyone honored there has a higher rank than him, so he spends the whole time saluting. He is just another ordinary Michigan neighbor, who also happened to survive hundreds of Japanese bombings during his time abroad.
While we chatted, the children explored the museum on a scavenger hunt. The docent provided a list of items for them to look for throughout the museum. The kids were having a great time hunting for these treasures, yet each time they found one, it came with an explanation of the importance of that individual or item, making for a very engaging learning experience.
Each display case is fascinating. There are stories of people from all walks of life—farmers to city dwellers, and everything in between. Their only universal commonalities seem to be ties to Michigan, and uncommon valor. A special section even showcases Medal of Honor recipients. Best of all, the volunteers and staff there are incredibly well versed. They walk amongst these exhibits with the reverence that befits heroes and the warmth of old friends.
In addition to military personnel, the museum also recognizes the bravery and intelligence of Michiganders who have served the nation as astronauts. Exhibits range from Roger Chaffee, who tragically died in 1967 during a pre-launch test for Apollo 1, to our state’s first female astronaut, Christina Hammock.
It would be very easy to wile away hours there, wandering from case to case and finding inspiration. I know my first visit will not be my last. Admission ranges from $3 for youngsters to $7 for adults. Individual and family annual memberships are also available for just $35 and $50 respectively. They have definitely outgrown their space, and the hunt is on for resources to expand. Membership fees and donations are most welcome to support that cause.
Item donations to help honor Michigan’s servicemen and women are also welcome. Generic donations of uniforms and artifacts may be used for display fillers, school reenactments, etc. Families seeking to honor a loved one with a display case of his or her own are required to provide the following:
- Photo suitable for enlarging 17×24
- DD-214 or equivalent paperwork to verify service record
- Uniform with rank and unit insignias
- Any medals or other awards
- Brief history of noteworthy events the veteran was involved in while serving his/her country
- Anything else suitable for display like models, artifacts, photos, books, letters, notes, logbooks, etc.
A mounted display may be done for veterans whose uniforms have been lost to time.
Some museums are cultural, some are historical, but few are as personal as Michigan’s Military and Space Heroes Museum. It’s a worthwhile stop along any family’s annual trek to for a Frankenmuth chicken dinner. You’ll find it right behind the main drag at 1250 Weiss Street.