MIAMI – The service of U.S Military Veteran’s and what they have done for others is everlasting and immortal. The individual stories of what they have done will die with them if not valued and preserved.
World War II Navy Veteran Glenn Pitts, 91, of Miami, American Legion Post No.147’s Historian, wanted a special place to reflect, remember and capture the history and heroism of U.S. Military service men and women.
The project became his passion, and the Post’s members got behind the vision with full support. The Legion first created a smaller museum and now has expanded the museum with a much larger, state-of-the-art facility.
An Open House and Ribbon Cutting for the new American Legion Post No. 147 Military Museum located at 2129 Denver Harner Drive in Miami is scheduled for 1 p.m. on May 19. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the event, enjoy refreshments and to tour the museum.
Taking on such a large project at 91 years of age, was a labor of love for Pitts. Pitts served aboard the historically acclaimed U.S.S. Makin Island during World War II. He was specially trained to serve on the U.S.S. Makin Island as an Amphib, the beginning of what are now known as the Navy S.E.A.L.s teams.
“I love history, for one thing, “ he said. “Then I thought, golly, all these guys are going to be forgotten, and they will never know about the wars. A change has come in this country after every war, and not a little change, a big change. I have always been taught that you live by history - you’ll either do one of two things, you’ll repeat it, or you’ll learn from it.”
The Legion’s Museum was created to educate and engage current and future generations with more knowledge of America's military heritage and the men and women who served to protect American freedom.
The success of a smaller museum, added to the Legion in 2014, sparked the idea for the much larger expansion.
“We got to getting so much stuff, we were loaded down, and we still yet needed these things on display. We had things stored everywhere,” Pitts said. “The new museum gives us much more space and more opportunities.”
Pitts said, so many special items and pieces had been donated to the Legion Museum it was difficult to showcase everything.
“They gave it to us to display it,” he said. “So, I went and asked the members, I said, ‘Do we want to expand?’ I said I would get the money for the expansion if you guys will give me enough money to move the flags out of the space I want.”
The Legion offers flag services, placing American flags for display on national holidays. The flags and trailers had previously been stored in the back garage area of the building, which has now been transformed into the stunning new museum.
Pitts researched on the Internet and found a contractor to build a new structure to house the Legion’s Flag Detail’s equipment with the members’ approval and financial support. This left Pitts with the next task of finding funding, around $25,000, to expand the museum.
“The Legion said they would pay for that and give me the space, but I had to raise the money to remodel the space for the new museum expansion,” he said.
He traveled all over the country applying for grants and making presentations to try to fund the project and ended up finding the money right here in Miami.
“One day the three Jurgensmeyer boys, Curtis, Terry, and Pat, came in and they wanted to see the museum, so I showed them the little museum, what we had, and told them about what I wanted to do. We had already cleaned out the back and had the building built for the flag wagons,” Pitts said. “They said, ‘Well, what can we do?’ and said, ‘Just give us a little time, and maybe we can help you,’ because they were all enthused over the little museum.”
The Jurgensmeyer family’s J&M Farms Charities raised $25,000 of the funds for the museum expansion through the Steve Wright Charity Golf Tournament and auction.
“They took me out there, and I had to give a speech, and Pat got up and told them about what we wanted to do here,” Pitts said. “The area merchants really got behind it.”
With most of the money raised, Pitts then sat down with contractors from Swingle Construction to begin design plans. The project with overruns came to a total of about $30,000, with much of the finish work completed by Pitts and Mike Headlee.
“I told them I would buy the paint for the floor. We painted the floors because if they didn’t have to hire a painter, it would save some costs,” he said. “ Mike helped throughout the project, and if it weren’t for him, this couldn’t have been done.”
Pitts’ daughter Penny who lives in Bartlesville found several large glass showcases for sale in a retail store going out of business, and Pitts bought them for the museum with his own money and with help hauled them to Miami.
Bright, colorful flags hang from the ceiling throughout the museum, all donated by Pitts, from an idea he envisioned.
“I told Dave (Swingle) I’ve got all these flags from all these countries and these wars from the Revolutionary War on. I said ‘I want to raise the ceiling and hang them from the ceiling. What will it cost?’ and he said,” I will do it for nothing, and I will have my boys hang your flags,’ and he did.”
The variety of items in the museum is amazing, and the facility offers a wonderful hidden capsule of American history. The museum is loaded with interesting pieces such as battle replicas, photos, weapons, uniforms, displays of equipment worn by the different military branches, wars and engagements of service, including Civil War artifacts, all from donations and pieces the museum acquired.
“I bought everything I could find. I’d go to Ebay. I’d go to Amazon. I went everywhere,” Pitts said.
The new museum expansion includes sections to preserve, display and honor each branch of U.S. Military the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force in an inspirational setting. Some of the stories and pieces shared in the museum are difficult and emotionally moving to view.
A special area of the museum features a POW/MIA memorial wall to honor in remembrance those Ottawa County veterans’ service and sacrifice.
“I want to try to get a photo of every one in Ottawa County,” Pitts said. “First thing I tell them is if you’ve got a relative’s photo you want to bring up here, bring it in to me, and they are bringing them in to me.”
Pitts became emotionally moved when he said the true heroes of all wars are the ones who never got to return home.
“We all wanted to come home,” Pitts said. “We should never forget those who did not.”
The Legion members enjoy leading tours of the museum and seeing the interest and response, especially from the children who see the museum’s exhibits and get to hear information and stories straight from the veterans’ themselves.
Pitts’ own Navy uniforms, photos, and war memorabilia from World War II are included in the U.S. Navy section.
“I never will forget the little girl who wanted to see the 13 buttons, and she had to count them,” Pitts said with a big laugh.
The new museum expansion is something very special and memorable to tour.
“My favorite thing in the museum is the POW/MIA wall, so they won’t be forgotten,” Pitts said.
The remarkable museum is the Legion’s gift to the community and Pitt’s legacy project that will stand as a testament to the service, honor, and sacrifice of all U.S. Military veterans.
“The contractors called me a slavedriver and I told them I got to get this done. I ain’t got much longer to live,” Pitts said laughing. “I’ve told the guys, and they’ve all agreed, ‘Take care of the museum.’ And they’ve all promised, ‘We’ll take care of it for you.’ They really are, they’re proud of it too.”
Pitts is thrilled and proud to see his vision of the new expansion completed and ready for tours and said the museum is his proudest accomplishment.
“Because I feel like I’m leaving something here and I think it will be here forever,” he said.
Pitts is quick to point out the many people who helped with the project starting with creating the space; first the Legion Post No.147’s members, the Jurgensmeyers and all who contributed, Swingle Construction including Dave Swingle, Dave Durbin, and Scott Williams, H&K Electric and Mike Bolton owner of Bolton Heat & Air.
“I can’t thank all of them enough. They did such a great job,” Pitts said.
Pitts said he wants to continue to fill the museum and the one item still needed are women’s American military uniforms.
“Now we can keep getting stuff. We haven’t got it full yet, but we will,” Pitt said. “I worked at it so long. I’m tired. I’m glad the post gave me the space and paid for the flag building so I could design this…I just feel relieved now that it’s done.”
For more information about the American Legion Post No 147 U.S. Military Museum or to donate or to take a free tour, no admission is charged, by appointment, contact the Legion or Pitts at 918-542-3255.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.