The National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, which opened in October 2018, states it is the only museum in the U.S. to specifically highlight and explore veterans’ experiences from all branches of service, in times of both peace and war, according to its website.
The NVMM was first envisioned by John H. Glenn, a former Ohio senator and NASA astronaut, who was living near an aging veterans’ memorial auditorium and convention space. It wasn’t faring well and needed substantial renovations. As a result, Glenn organized a group of people to repurpose that same land to honor veterans more appropriately.
Initially, they intended to create an Ohio-centered museum, but the project evolved and its scope expanded to encompass the entire nation.
Shelley Hoffman, NVMM associate director of external affairs, explains that the museum and memorial are designed with the goal of “honoring the contributions and sacrifices made by military veterans and their families, [while also] educating and inspiring the public about veterans and military affairs.”
NVMM is especially unique because of its broad focus. Hoffman explained, “What really separates our museum from others is that we are neither conflict specific nor service specific.”
The museum takes visitors on “a narrative journey” that encompasses every military conflict since World War II, and includes all branches of service. Each section of the museum is focused on one aspect of veterans’ experiences. In total, the museum tells the story of over 25 veterans from all over the country who represent the diversity of the American military.
Outside the museum, visitors can stroll through the Memorial Grove, which features Elm trees, a water feature and a memorial wall, all designed to encourage reflection and remembrance, and provide a quiet place for contemplation.
In an email, NVMM President and CEO General Michael Ferriter, explains that the institution is so important now because of the disconnect between veterans and civilians.
“At this point in time, less than 1% of the population is serving in the military. In years past, most Americans had a direct connection to someone in service…. That is no longer the case. So, it is more important than ever to tell the stories and establish a place where we can connect veterans with non-veterans and educate all Americans about the contributions Veterans have made and continue to make to the fabric of our country,” he wrote.
Located in the heart of the Midwest, Hoffman said that NVMM is “within a day’s drive of over 50% of the US population.” Its central location is beneficial in achieving its core goals, including addressing a varied audience in order to stimulate dialogue between civilians and veterans.
By providing an engaging experience for the whole family, NVMM serves to prompt important discussions and bridge the distance between veteran and civilian worlds.
General Ferriter wrote, “This museum provides the platform to begin important discussions about what it means to serve our nation and commit to something larger than yourself.”
Since its opening, NVMM has received 35,000 visitors. The staff hopes to reach many more people and is developing creative solutions to do just that. Efforts include construction of a virtual tour on the website and traveling exhibits that could bring the stories far beyond the museum’s physical walls. Furthermore, NVMM staff is developing online curriculum for students in grades K-12, while also establishing partnerships with colleges and universities.
For veterans and their families, NVMM hopes to provide a unique service as a “connecting point,” according to Hoffman.
On the first Saturday of every month, the organization hosts Rally Point, a free networking event, social gathering and breakfast designed to bring veterans and military families together with local resources. Careful not to duplicate efforts already underway by other organizations, Hoffman said NVMM aims to “find where we can help make a difference.”
The NVMM has been nationally designated by Congress but receives no federal funding. All revenue comes from grants and donations and admissions. Museum entry is free for active-duty U.S. military service members, veterans and Gold Star families.