By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
More than 18 months after opening its doors, the internationally acclaimed National Museum of Military Vehicles will finally have its grand opening celebration in late May.
Museum founder Dan Starks told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that it feels “great” to finally be at the point where the Dubois museum can have its grand opening celebration after opening its doors to the public in August 2020.
“We want this museum to have a positive impact on the country and on Americans,” he said. “I think this grand opening really represents our kickoff on our way to becoming a national destination hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.”
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the grand opening several times as scheduled dates for the event were pushed back repeatedly due to spikes in the illness and restrictions on large gatherings put in place to slow the spread of the illness from mid-2020 until early 2021.
The grand opening will be held at the museum, which is eight miles southeast of Dubois, at 10 a.m. on May 28.
The 140,000 square-foot museum boasts more than 500 vehicles in its collection and more than 200 historically significant firearms. The Starks spent $100 million of their own money to fund the museum.
The event will feature multiple guest speakers including Gov. Mark Gordon, retired Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, who at one point served as director of the Army National Guard, and William “Doc” Schmitz, who served as commander-in-chief of the VFW from 2019 to 2020. Starks will be the final speaker.
After the speeches, visitors will be able to tour the museum at no charge. There will also be demonstrations of tanks and an armored vehicle-launched bridge, tank rides and presentations given by the VFW, the National Museum of the Army and the Army Historical Foundation.
The Wyoming National Guard will also be flying in a Blackhawk helicopter to use as a static display for the grand opening.
In addition, there will be a unique outdoor shooting range that will be open for use at no charge, although guests will have to pay for their own ammunition for the firearms provided by the museum, which will include machine guns.
When creating the museum, Starks said he and his wife wanted to ensure the museum was unique in its presentation of wars from throughout the United States’ history, rather than focusing on one war or certain branches of the military.
“We’re really inclusive,” he said. “We’re not honoring a group of veterans and their families. We’re honoring every veteran and their family through American history here. We can present lessons learned from our entire military history to pass along to young people and the next generations.”
Starks noted that despite a lack of marketing, the museum drew in more than 40,000 visitors in 2021, at least 10% to 20% of whom were veterans.
With this in mind, the Starks and their team at the museum have made sure that the grand opening will have something to offer for both repeat visitors and those who have not stopped at the museum in the past.
The Starks will be unveiling a 14,000 square-foot annex to its World War II gallery right before the grand opening, allowing for more equipment to be on display. Starks pointed to the museum’s Vietnam War experience as one of its most valuable parts.
“So many Vietnam veterans are still alive and even with the ones that have passed, many of their immediate families are still alive,” he said. “Our Vietnam veterans served in horrendous and difficult conditions and they didn’t receive the thank you, appreciation and recognition they deserve.
“This is a step to fill in what our veterans should have received when they came home,” he continued. “If they’re still alive, it’s not too late to embrace them and assure them their stories are still being recognized and will be preserved and passed along forever.”