One of the comments most often heard after someone visits the award-winning Veterans Museum Broomfield for the first time is, “I’ve lived here all my life and never knew you existed; what a great museum!”
The reason for the museum’s relative obscurity is its location—a nondescript building set back from Midway Boulevard a quarter mile east of Wadsworth Boulevard (Highway 287) on the far side of a large parking lot.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, when the museum is open, a half-dozen American flags flap in the breeze on the front lawn, but it’s still easy to miss.
Located in Broomfield’s former Mamie Doud Eisenhower Library (dedicated in 1963 by President and Mrs. Eisenhower), the museum looks small from the outside, yet encompasses about 10,000 square feet on two floors inside. The upper floors contain ten exhibit rooms that honor Colorado veterans from the Civil War to the Global War on Terrorism. A special alcove is used to display rotating exhibits that change every three or four months.
The lower level houses a 2,000-book library (the second largest military history library in the state—second only to the Air Force Academy Library), the curator’s office, storage space, and a lecture hall where “Coffee & Conversation” presentations are given almost every Saturday morning of the year.
Artifacts in display cases, vintage posters and photographs on the walls, model ships, vehicles, and planes hanging from the ceiling, along uniformed mannequins document the stories of the brave men and women with a Colorado connection who answered the call when their nation needed them. Almost all of the directors, volunteers, and docents at the museum are veterans.
Begun in 2002 by a group of World War II and Korean War veterans, the museum has grown from a single room to the entire building, which is provided rent-free to the 501 (c)(3) non-profit group by the City and County of Broomfield.
Coloradans have been part of numerous significant moments in American military history for over 160 years.
Among the more than 800 artifacts on display are Civil War muskets and cannonball fragments; a footlocker once owned by Brigadier General Irving Hale, Denver-born hero of the Spanish-American War; a once-top-secret WWII Norden bombsight; and a brick from the Dachau concentration camp that was liberated by a unit of the Colorado National Guard.
The role of the 10th Mountain Division that trained at Camp Hale near Leadville and fought in the mountains of Italy during the closing months of the war is also highlighted in the European Theater of Operations Room. There, too, can be found tributes to Colorado soldiers who came ashore on D-Day in Normandy; Big Band musician Glenn Miller from Fort Morgan; and Major General Maurice Rose, for whom Rose Hospital in Denver is named.
Another room in the World War II section honors the women in uniform (WACs, WAVEs, Spars, Women Marines, and nurses) who freed up men to fight, and also their civilian counterparts in the WASP—the Women’s Air Service Pilots—who ferried warplanes from their factories to the U.S. air bases where they were turned over to male pilots for flights to overseas bases.
Honorees in the Pacific Theater Room include Boulder-born Admiral Arleigh Burke, who became America’s longest-serving Chief of Naval Operations; Marine Generals Lewis Walt and Victor Krulak; naval officer and later U.S. Supreme Court Justice Bryon “Whizzer” White; former Colorado Governors John Love and John Vanderderhoof who served as naval aviators; and ex-Senator Peter Dominick, who flew dangerous supply missions over the Himalayas.
The Pacific Theater Room showcases airplane and ship models, and tells the stories of Coloradans who were at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; Clay Decker, who escaped from a sinking submarine and was held as a POW under brutal conditions by the Japanese; and Paul Murphy, one of the museum’s founders, who survived the sinking of his ship, the USS Indianapolis, in 1945, after it had delivered components of the atomic bomb to Tinian Island.
The role of the Coors Porcelain Company is dramatized by a tiny piece of sand turned into glass during the test explosion of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. The tail gunner of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima, was Bob Caron, who made Denver his home after the war.
Then there is the Home Front Room, where glimpses of civilian life in Colorado during WWII can be found. Posters recall the tremendous efforts by Colorado industries and farmers, the existence of several army camps and air bases, and forty prisoner-of-war camps in the state, along with a reminder of a dark chapter in our history—the incarceration of Japanese-Americans at Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado.
The Cold War Room traces the long period of tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, with displays highlighting the chemical-weapons manufacturing plant at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal; Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant; Pueblo Army Depot; and NORAD in Colorado Springs.
A fallout shelter from the 1950s has even been constructed to give visitors a sense of what it was like to live under years of threat of nuclear war.
The role of Colorado men and women who served during the Korean War (1950-53) is highlighted next, followed by a display room devoted to honoring the service and sacrifice of Coloradans who served during the Vietnam War.
The final exhibit room is devoted to the men and women who served during the global war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. And a special display in the Hall of Heroes pays homage to 26 Colorado men from the Spanish-American War to the war in Afghanistan who were awarded the Medal of Honor, many posthumously.
One of the museum’s missions is to provide a history lesson to young people who do not learn in school about Colorado’s military contributions, and a special education program provides learning materials to area schools.
The museum was honored in 2020 by History Colorado with the Josephine Miles Award and Dream Vacation magazine, which named the museum the “Number One Thing to Do in Broomfield.”
Veterans Museum Broomfield, located at 12 Garden Center on Midway Boulevard, is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-2 and Saturdays from 9-3. Admission is free. For more information, visit the website (www.broomfieldveterans.org) or phone (303) 460-6801.