Celebrating another milestone, American Veterans First board members and other volunteers hosted a grand opening of its military museum at the organization’s headquarters at 6436 Oakdale Road on Saturday morning, July 30.
The many family members, spouses, veterans and other volunteers in attendance were greeted by AVF CEO Duke Cooper, who introduced the board members and volunteers who help the organization run.
Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran himself, has collected military artifacts over the years and noted that AVF will celebrate six years of community service this month.
The current space in which they are located allowed them to build the museum. A lover of museums since childhood, Cooper dreamed of creating a military museum.
“I want the museum to be a history lesson,” Cooper said. ” This is my dream ; teach the story in there, but we’ll teach the correct story.
The museum displays a plethora of military artifacts, such as an 1876 flag, a flag that flew over the Pentagon during 9/11, bayonets, flashlights, and several weapons from the late 1700s through World War II. .
“For me, I saw this a while ago, the story isn’t there for you to like or dislike, it’s there for you to learn from,” Cooper said. “If it offends you even more, because then you’re less likely to repeat it. It’s not up to you to erase or destroy. You can’t erase history.
Among the unique memorabilia they have Uncle Charlie’s WW1 uniform which was provided by one of the board members. He was a medic in World War I and the uniform is complete from boots to helmet. There is a picture of him sitting on a horse-drawn medical cart.
Cooper also highlighted the display by one of the veteran volunteers of a number of weapons of war and related equipment, from the Revolutionary War era through the Civil War and later. Those featured included muzzle-loading rifles from the 1700s and Colt .45 revolvers from the 1860s.
Pointing out this display area in the museum, Cooper noted that the weapons would not remain there permanently until AVF could locate a suitable safe to store them after hours, in order to keep locked up.
Displays covered the walls, displaying uniforms, flags, displays and other military paraphernalia, with mannequins wearing some of the uniforms.
The museum’s grand opening event took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and featured charcuterie and salad provided to visitors by the group.
But more than a chance to socialize and enjoy a light snack, the grand opening gave those in attendance a chance to appreciate all that is on display.
“You pass by here and you’re like wow,” Cooper added. “We are their voice now. Good Day Sacramento was there. They loved our museum and our building. They plan to come back.
Gloria Robertson is the museum’s director, and Cooper noted that she and the team have done a great job of putting the museum together.
He said, “She put her heart and soul into it. With the work that happened, Gloria was overwhelmed, but she stood the test of time and did a great job. I’m proud of the whole team. We have the best team we have ever had. I give full credit to the team.
“It was a labor of love,” Robertson said. “I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support. I did not do it myself in any case. It was team work. I work with a really sincere group of wonderful people who are here for all the same reasons and it all came together.
Robertson has been with AVF for over a year. She started volunteering after being laid off due to COVID. After meeting AVF Executive Secretary Paige McLaughlin, her adventure with the AVF began.
“I figured if I really wanted to get back to work or if I wanted to do something a little more meaningful, something that was going to give back to the community and a little more heart-driven,” Robertson remarked. “I was looking for volunteer work to fill my time and Paige came along and I thought I’d give it a shot. I don’t regret it at all.”
There are no paid positions at AVF.
“It was tough in the sense that there were long hours,” Robertson added. “None of us are paid, so this is an unpaid position, but what you don’t get in salary, you get so much more in satisfaction of your heart and soul. Working is one thing and it’s a whole other level.
They had guests visiting the museum throughout the day and the attendance exceeded their expectations.
“It seemed like every day someone would come in and say I got this and I got that as we got closer to opening,” Robertson said of the items to be displayed. “We really tried to make sure we included everyone. The good thing is that we were really able to decorate it with lots of meaningful artifacts, items, photos, clothing and flags that had been in families for hundreds of years. It went really well. It was a pure miracle. We are very proud of it. It was everyone who participated. Everyone was driven to do the same and it was to honor our fallen veterans, first responders and the people who gave us our freedoms.
A highlight for Robertson at the museum’s grand opening was how several small businesses donated stuff for the event, from raffle items for gift baskets to food.
She said: “It’s amazing how many small businesses, not necessarily big businesses, but small businesses have come to help us and it was amazing and unexpected and appreciated. It was very cool.
Another highlight Robertson noted was coverage of Good Day Sacramento so they could reach more people.
Robertson added that their goal beyond the grand opening is to share some of the history with the public and connect with schools to do educational tours and trips.
The museum is open to the public Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
News correspondent Ric McGinnis contributed to this story.