A Gettysburg WWII museum provides a new incentive for history buffs and families to visit the charming small town in southcentral Pennsylvania.
As the name implies, the World War II American Experience and Education Center isn’t a stuffy museum where you walk through dimly lit rooms reading placards.
No, this is a museum where you see, hear, touch—and come to understand—what it was like to live during this tumultuous period of time.
The WW2 American Experience Museum is a great addition to the other museums in Gettysburg that help teach visitors about the past.
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The Story Behind the Gettysburg WW2 Museum
Started by Gettysburg residents Frank and Loni Buck as a way to display Frank’s massive collection of World War II vehicles, the museum’s mission has expanded to educate the public about the many varied facets of American contributions to the war effort.
“We want guests to get a true feel for what life was like—both at home and on the battlefield,” Loni Buck said.
The Buck family decided they needed a museum building after hosting thousands of people from many parts of the world at their Gettysburg home over the past two dozen years.
In fact, their farm had become a venue for charitable events as the Franks gave tours of their collection to school groups and provided a gathering place for veterans’ units, historic automobile clubs and military associations.
Seeing the interest from so many people made the family recognize the need for a meaningful and lasting educational experience to help the public understand the effect of World War II on both soldiers and civilians.
The Gettysburg WWII American Experience Museum and Education Center is located at 845 Crooked Creek Road just west of Gettysburg.
Visitors can tour the three connected buildings that provide 36,000-square-feet of fascinating, educational and interactive displays.
WWII Museum Is Truly An ‘American Experience’
As the idea for the Gettysburg WWII museum began to come together, it grew well beyond simply displaying a collection of military vehicles and period objects.
In addition to the Sherman tanks, wheeled vehicles, small arms, uniforms and other items of material culture from the Buck Collection on display, the WWII American Experience museum also showcases the contributions of civilians who did their part to support the soldiers on the battlefield.
Interactive displays, simulated and real vehicle experiences, living history programs and live demonstrations combine to give visitors a true sense of time and place.
The Gettysburg WW2 museum also tells the story of the U.S. involvement in World War II through the eyes, experiences and memories of the people of Gettysburg, Adams County and the surrounding region through artifacts and recorded video interviews playing throughout the museum.
By giving visitors an authentic experience, the Gettysburg WW2 museum pays tribute to the values, valor, hard work, and perhaps most importantly—the unity—of the nation during the Second World War.
Vehicles That Won The War on Display
One of the buildings at the Gettysburg WW2 museum holds vintage military vehicles of all shapes and sizes from Frank’s collection.
Walking through the 12,000-square-foot display space lets visitors smell the diesel fuel and oil from a wide variety of vehicles that contributed to the war effort and see them up close.
“These truly are the vehicles that won the war,” Loni Buck said of the massive collection. “Everything here has a story behind it.”
The vehicles on display at the Gettysburg WW2 Museum range from a Jeep still in a crate, to a Jeep painted a bright checkered yellow and black.
This “Follow Me” Jeep was painted in bright colors so it could be seen by pilots to guide them down the taxiway to the location it was to be parked.
The Jeep helped during poor weather conditions, as well as providing a visual for pilots who were unfamiliar with the taxiways of an airport they had never landed at before.
Not surprisingly, the vehicles that get the most attention from visitors are the massive Sherman tanks.
One of the tanks in the Gettysburg WW2 museum’s collection has two signatures on the side from WWII veterans who are very familiar with the combat vehicle.
Walter Stitt, a Battle of the Bulge veteran, was a loader for a Sherman tank crew in the 3rd Armored Division.
He arrived at Omaha Beach in Normandy several weeks after D-Day and was part of the effort to push through France and Belgium and into Germany.
On three separate occasions, Stitt’s unit was struck by a German tank shell that killed other members of the crew.
The first time it happened, Stitt was the only survivor and said he was reaching down for a shell when the tank was hit, which probably saved his life.
The other signature is Clarence Smoyer, a tank gunner, who served in the famous “Spearhead Division” of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division.
He was credited for destroying a German tank in the Battle of Cologne near the town’s famous cathedral in March of 1945, and took out four additional German tanks during two years of service as well.
Other vehicles that aren’t as familiar, but still played significant roles in the war include a GMC CCKW general purpose shop truck, tank destroyers and tank recovery vehicles, ambulances, engineer vehicles and a Red Cross Clubmobile.
The Red Cross Clubmobile
Another unique vehicle on display at the Gettysburg WW2 museum is a Clubmobile used by the American Red Cross.
Clubmobiles were refitted buses and trucks staffed by volunteer Red Cross women who accompanied the troops to serve free coffee, doughnuts, chewing gum and other treats from home.
Clubmobiles were intended to raise troop morale, so they also carried the latest American “records,” which they played from loud speakers.
The duties of the Red Cross volunteers often took them to the front lines of the War.
For that reason, many Clubmobile girls of the American Red Cross received army medals, both for service in a combat zone and for valor.
The Homefront During WWII
Although the Gettysburg WWII museum has no shortage of authentic military vehicles and artifacts, it also devotes a space to interpret life on the Homefront.
The Gettysburg WW2 museum does a fantastic job of showing visitors how the country stood united in their willingness to lend a helping hand.
Citizens played a significant role in bolstering the war effort in many different ways, including forming local aircraft warning services, “scrapping for victory,” raising victory gardens and joining the workforce as men left for the battlefield.
Even children took part in the war effort by picking milkweed, which was used for buoyancy in life vests.
During the last two years of World War II, 25 million pounds of milkweed pods were picked by volunteers in 25 states. This effort created 1.2 million life preservers, saving sailors’ lives at a cost of 75 cents a pound.
Another interesting “experience” on the Homefront includes walking through a fully constructed 1938 “Sears house” decorated the way it would have been during the war years.
When visitors step outside, they’ll find an all-original 1931 Model A Ford, the type of car the average family owned at the time.
Other Homefront displays include original “Scrap Drive,” posters as well as information about victory gardens, rationing and U.S. bond drives.
Lots To Do At The Gettysburg WW2 Museum
Special programming at the museum includes re-enactments, living history programs, speakers, seminars and interactive offerings.
The museum will also have special rotating exhibits, USO-style programs, swing dances and live music from the 40s.
Educational resources include Interactive Exhibits that provide high-touch, hands-on experience with various museum displays.
Special History Programs feature guest speakers throughout the year, offering insights into battles, unit histories, technical innovations and personal stores from WWII.
There are also Leadership programs that teach visitors about the role models who stepped up in times of crisis and provided leadership both at home and abroad.
Authors give presentations throughout the year at the museum, sharing their analysis of major battles, as well as telling stories about incredible acts of bravery or treason.
Living History events depict what it meant to be a soldier, sailor, airman, merchant marine, doctor, or nurse, and also portray the people who fulfilled their civic duty at home.
These historians share the accounts of those who labored in the factories and on the farms, built shops and airplanes, and volunteered as civil defense workers.
The Gettysburg WW3 museum has an on-site cafe, set up like a British pub, that serves sandwiches, snacks and beverages.
The facility’s gift shop sells a variety of unique items including handmade quilts, wooden toys for children, war memorabilia and even special Christmas ornaments.
Additionally, the museum has a large conference room, a temperature and humidity controlled archive room, and an area that can be opened up for larger special events.
Accommodations for large groups including banquets, seminars and field trips are available. (See below).
Guided group tours are available for schools, camps, service organizations, travel groups and large families to experience American sacrifices made during the world’s largest conflict of the 20th century, both on the Battlefield and on the Homefront.
Why Gettysburg For A WWII Museum?
Gettysburg is an ideal location for this WWII museum because of its natural draw as a place of remembrance for veterans.
In fact, of the roughly 7,000 graves at the Gettysburg National Cemetery, more than 1,600 are for veterans of World War II, and around 500 of them were killed on the battlefield.
Additionally, a POW camp for German prisoners was established at the Gettysburg National Military Park in 1944. POW labor was used in the growing, harvesting and processing of area agricultural products in the local area.
The Gettysburg battlefield is also a leadership “laboratory,” used to teach tactics and military strategy to future officers.
Different branches of the military, as well as many corporations bring their employees to Gettysburg to teach lessons on leadership.
But perhaps mostly importantly, Gettysburg is seen as a symbol of sacrifice for the greater good and is a top destination for patriotic Americans who honor their past and want to learn from history.
After experiencing the Gettysburg WW2 museum, visitors might want to take a guided tour through Gettysburg to learn how this small town mobilized resources for the war effort in WWII.
Other notable sites include:
- A nearby former POW camp
- A top-secret psychological warfare training facility
- The Navy’s secret map-making location
Visitors can also add a stop at General (President) Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower’s home to learn how this famous leader loved history and decided to make Gettysburg his only permanent home.
The Gettysburg National Cemetery, where nearly 500 WWII combat veterans are buried, is a site that is worth a visit for its historical value.
This beautiful cemetery is also where President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.
As many local old-timers may remember, a POW camp for German prisoners was established at the Gettysburg National Military Park in 1944.
Due to severe labor shortages during the war, POW labor was utilized in the growing, harvesting and processing of area agricultural products.
Themes Of The Gettysburg WW2 Museum
The WWII American Experience Museum is divided into themes to give visitors a glimpse at the different facets of the 1940s. Here’s a quick look:
- The Homefront: One of the most eye-opening topics of the museum centers around the Homefront and shows visitors how American civilians—including women and children—did their part while GI’s went off to war.
Older folks will remember of these things like: civil defense, scrap drives, US Bond drives, victory gardens and rationing.
- Arsenal of Democracy: This section showcases the transition from domestic production into the manufacture of war vehicles and equipment.
- The Vehicles That Won The War: This is where the vast Frank Collection of tanks, Jeeps, as well a wide variety of other operational vehicles and equipment are on display.
- Battle Exhibits including Authentic Helmets and Uniforms: The museum has a vast collection of helmets and uniforms including helmets with bullet holes. Visitors can learn the stories behind the men who wore them.
- Stories and Artifacts of the Region: The Gettysburg area has quite a history during WWII, including having a German POW Camp in Gettysburg and nearby supply stations. This part of the museum includes interviews and artifacts from soldiers and citizens.
Wrap-Up Of The Gettysburg WWII Museum
Whether you’re being introduced to the history of World War II it for the first time or you have real life experiences from that era, you will find something of interest at the WWII American Experience Museum.
By preserving these military vehicles and authentic equipment, the Gettysburg WW2 museum will be able to share its rich historic and educational knowledge with the public for generations to come.
Ticket prices range from Free for children under 5 to $14 for general admission. Seniors and veterans are $11 and children 6 to 12 are $8.
Can Groups Visit The Gettysburg WW2 Museum?
Private group visits of 20 or more are eligible for a reduced rate of $9 person for a guided tour. Student groups of 20 or more will cost $7 per student (with 1 chaperone per 10 students required).
Museum docents will guide your group through the story of World War II and displays of authentic WWII vehicles, uniforms and artifacts in realistic dioramas and exhibits that portray, not just the battlefield, but the home front as well.
All guided group tours start promptly at the pre-arranged time. Guided tours will last approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Visitors are welcome to experience the museum on their own once the guided tour has concluded.
Support The WWII American Experience
If you are interested in supporting the Gettysburg WWII American Experience Museum you can join their Membership team by visiting their website at visitWW2.org.
A membership donation gets you special benefits while providing critical funding to aid in the maintenance, restoration, and operation of the Gettysburg museum’s historic collections.
A membership helps to carry on the mission to honor veterans and to educate future generations about their importance in history.
You can also purchase an engraved granite paver to be placed in the museum’s Memorial Garden. This is a wonderful space to acknowledge those who serve or remember anyone who contributed to any war effort.
The memorial garden is highlighted with a 25′ x 15′ American flag flying on top of a 70-foot mechanized and illuminated flagpole.