My family and I were recently in Des Moines, Iowa and we wanted to check out the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge since it had been on my radar for some time. I expected to see a few old guns and perhaps some warbirds, but I was completely taken aback by the number and variety of firearms they had on display. Firearms were a large part of the museum as a whole and were tastefully displayed in relation to their roles in armed conflicts, rather than as an afterthought like other museums I’ve visited.
IOWA GOLD STAR MILITARY MUSEUM
The staff at the military museum were very pleasant and helpful in getting us started. Right off the bat, we were met with a room lined with lots of historical military small arms. The museum focuses its collection on the conflicts that the United States (and therefore, Iowans) have been involved with, however, the arms are not limited to those only fielded by the U.S.
Although I was like a kid in a candy store in my head, I slowly and methodically checked out each small arm in order. With heavy and light machineguns, mortars, rocket launchers, pistols and rifles of all types, in an instant, this became my favorite museum in Iowa and I’d only entered the first room. Two of the walls were organized by time periods and conflicts, as well as by type such as submachineguns or standard infantry rifles. The other two walls were a bit less organized, but not any less interesting as they consisted of recoilless rifles, anti-tank rifles and machineguns.
MILITARY FIREARMS IN THEIR (SIMULATED) NATURAL HABITAT
As I mentioned, the firearms of the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum were a major part of each exhibit, and done so in an accurate manner. It’s not that each exhibit was designed around the guns, but it was the inclusion of them on helicopters, support vehicles and mock battle scenes that showed how infused the small arms were with each conflict and shouldn’t be ignored. It was clear that the museum staff and volunteers knew their stuff and cared about the detail.
One exhibit featured trench warfare and was very well executed. The firearms of the First World War were displayed in a mock trench with wooden floorboards and walls. The sounds of incoming artillery and explosions could be heard sporadically, some of the bigger explosions were rigged to shake the floorboards, and gave a glimpse as to some of the aspects that were intrinsic to trench warfare.
FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
While I was still drooling in the first room dedicated strictly to historical firearms, my wife and kids moved on to see what else the museum had to offer, and they were not disappointed or bored. The museum had numerous mock battle scenes of every major conflict that included vehicles, artillery, and aircraft. The biggest hit though, was the mock submarine bridge, equipped with a functional periscope that could rotate 360 degrees with a view from the top of the museum. While my eight year old called out targets from the periscope, my youngest two were busy tapping on the keyboards and sending missiles and torpedoes, as well as monitoring the sonar.
Another hands-on attraction was the full-sized M113 armored personnel carrier. The driver’s seat was roped off, but the rear compartment was fully accessible. The museum had several war plane cockpits as well, which weren’t available to sit in, but they were very open and it was easy to see how many instruments and buttons and knobs that a pilot would need to keep track of. There was also a full-sized AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter hanging from the ceiling. Underneath the helicopter was a display of the rockets, 40mm grenades and 20mm minigun. I took the time to show the older kids how the rocket’s fins expand once fired from their tubes as well.
We spoke with the museum’s curator as well during his loop through the exhibits. He was very friendly, knowledgeable and progressive (in the non-political sense, because-Firearms Not Politics). The curator was planning to add a few more homemade details to the already superb mock submarine, and detailed his plans for some more organization with the firearms they had on hand. He was also on board with me doing some more specific, in-depth looks at specific firearms to share with the TFB readers.
Between the variety of all types of arms, displays and exhibits and the hands-on experience for the kids, I was very impressed with the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum. If you happen to be passing through Des Moines, Iowa, I highly recommend visiting if you have the time. I applaud the work that the whole staff and volunteers do to keep the military history alive, all while keeping admission free. You can view their website HERE, or visit their Facebook page HERE that also highlights their exhibits as well as their involvement in the community.
What do you think about this glimpse into the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum?