Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are no more than words strung together into sentences. But there are those rare few that energize a nation and become a source of pride for generations.
In a state whose roots in military service run as long as those of its abundant corn, one story stands tall: that of the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo. Determined to fight together in World War II, all gave their lives in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Sea in 1942.
With its facade of steel and glass, visitors to the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum are reminded of the strength of all Iowans who served and their clarity of purpose.
As the purpose of Memorial Day leads many to local remembrance events, a visit to the museum on May 25 will inspire visitors. The museum opens at 11:00 a.m. after the Waterloo Memorial Day Parade and ceremony conclude. Free lunch will be provided until 1:00 p.m. to the first 100 visitors with paid museum admission. Family activities are available until 3:00 p.m.
Bringing the past to the present
One of the most compelling aspects of the museum is its Voices of Iowa Oral History Project. Three- to five-minute clips of veteran interviews are part of various exhibits. Their experiences remind visitors that even common routines, such as end of the day rituals, are dramatically different in war. For one recorded veteran, Roger Allen, from Independence, his nighttime habits during the Vietnam War were far from a few minutes of the evening news and then off to a comfortable bed. “When nighttime comes you’re in a bunker, you have to set your Claymore mines up out front, there’s constantine wire all the way around your perimeter, you have to make sure that is good enough to keep the VC out, which a lot of times it isn’t, they can infiltrate, and we used a lot of infrared scopes to see what’s going on out there,” said Allen.
“We’ve collected over 1,500 interviews from Iowa men and women from WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, all the way up to the present,” said Christy Decker, director of marketing and tourism for the museum.
State of the art technology personalizes war for visitors
Although it presents remarkable historical displays and maps, the museum breaks from the norm in a unique way. It gives visitors the opportunity to take on the persona of someone who lived through war, either in the field or at home.
“When everyone comes in they get a dog tag,” said Decker. “They can scan it at the dog tag stations in each of the war conflict areas. The bar code on the tag represents a certain persona. You might be a 23-year-old white female from Dubuque; I might be an 8-year-old African American boy from Des Moines. Here’s where it’s neat: you stay that same person through the different wars and you really get a good idea of how times changed,” Decker stated.
A “must see”
“Out of state visitors are pleasantly surprised that a museum of this caliber is in the middle of Iowa,” said Decker.
At its core, what makes the museum impressive is something so simple, but so powerful: the spoken word. Come hear for yourself the sounds of bravery at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.
Museum hours: Tuesday-Saturday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.* (*Memorial Day hours 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.)
Location: 503 South Street, Waterloo
Telephone: (319) 234-6357
The Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum and Grout Museum of History and Science buildings are connected. One admission price provides access to both museums. The Grout Museum offers the only public planetarium in Northeast Iowa.
Photo source: Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, Tim Dodd photographer