At the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, there is a museum where anyone can take part in the “Vietnam War Experience.” The Vietnam War Foundation is adding to its already complete 5,000 sq. ft. hands-on museum. The addition of a 700 sq. ft. Vietnam wing, currently under construction, will be home to the current large collection of artifacts, weapons and displays from both the ARVN and VC armies, as well as those of the Vietnamese people.
The new addition enabled the VWF to move displays and artifacts into a separate, dedicated Vietnam area where visitors can experience the war from both the South and North Vietnamese army perspectives, as well as how the Vietnamese people made it through the war. It will show life as it existed during the war for the Vietnamese, and will enable visitors to touch and feel actual artifacts donated and collected over the past 20 years.
What started as one Vietnam veteran's desire to teach schoolchildren about the Vietnam War by towing a Vietnam Huey and slideshow around to schools on Long island has become one of the largest collections of Vietnam-era hardware and artifacts in the U.S. This educational museum is a hands-on experience where visitors are able to sit in, touch and feel what those who were “in country” experienced on a daily basis. The museum also provides a place for healing and comradery for many who visit.
From receiving “your” draft notice and going to basic training, to living and eating in the field, being in the middle of battle and passing a field hospital, visitors are able to feel that experience as they are guided by Vietnam vets who volunteer their time, stories and experiences. Visitors are able to feel the weight of “chicken plate,” an RPG or AK-47, try on a steel pot or handle the M-60 from the door gunner’s seat. They can even “command” one of two Vietnam Hueys at the VWF museum. All are encouraged to sit in and feel like a soldier in any of the wheeled vehicles, take command of a genuine Vietnam O-2 (Oscar Deuce) or even the historic WWII veteran C-47, configured to be a “Spooky” gunship.
The Hueys were acquired almost 20 years apart, one in 1996 in New York and one in Virginia in 2015; they surprisingly have serial numbers only 9 digits apart, with both having documented service in Vietnam. We have had a visit from the CP of one, Black Cat 2-1, and the crew chief of the other to verify with personal pictures their ships’ service in Vietnam.
The museum and the memorial brick walkway is recognized at the national level by The American Legion, and is used as a focus for memorial and dedication services each year by numerous private groups, schools, government organizations, ROTC units and individual families. The museum is also used as a backdrop by a number of local groups looking for an interesting place to hold meetings.
It is not uncommon for the museum to see 1,000 or more visitors during an open house weekend. The museum is a 501(c)(3) organization, is free to visit and is open by appointment for individuals or groups, as well as holding open houses on Memorial Day, July Fourth and veterans weekends.
Learn more at www.vietnamwarfoundation.org.