Located at 2145 N.E. 36th, the nation’s largest state-operated military museum commemorates the National Guard division, long known as the “Thunderbirds,” with scores of artifacts from the Second World War.
Museum curator Michael Gonzales said the exhibits help show visitors how Pearl Harbor catapulted the 45th into the throes of war.
“It didn’t take a wizard to look around at the state of the world in 1939 and realize that sooner or later, we were going to be involved in the conflict,” he said.
During the war, the 45th fought Axis forces in North Africa and eventually Europe, playing a crucial role in the Allied invasion of the Italian island of Sicily.
right, a soldier’s coat on display at the 45th Infantry Division Museum.
The museum houses an array of items from soldiers who served in the war, including rifles, helmets, letters to loved ones and sweetheart pins.
Perhaps the most fascinating artifacts of that period come from Nazi Germany, Gonzales said.
“If the Nazis had anything, they had panache, and they created a number of interesting items,” he said. “Their uniforms were very attractive. Many of their officers carried daggers. They wore their medals and decorations into combat with them, so there was a lot of stuff for [members of the 45th] to bring back.”
Among the items on display are artifacts once belonging to Adolf Hitler.
Ironically, the first symbol of the 45th became forever associated with Nazism. Established in 1923, the division initially bore the symbol of a swastika, which had been associated with Native American culture.
“When the Nazis adopted that symbol, we had to get rid of it,” Gonzales said.
Admission is free. The museum is open daily except Mondays. For more information, call 424-5313 or visit 45thdivisionmuseum.com.