“Our job is to tell their story”
Pictured above: Mark Witham is the owner and founder of the museum. He said, “Our job is to tell their story.”
Have you arrived at the point in the summer where you are looking for new things to do and would add a big plus to the activity if it was inside and air conditioned? If yes, then Military Heritage Collection North Texas should be considered as an entertainment contender.
Military Heritage Collection North Texas is located along a country road in Nevada, TX. A passerby seeing their military themed mailbox might conclude that the resident is a fan of the military, which is very true, but there is so much more. Guests will be surprised to find that waiting inside the buildings are thousands of military artifacts displayed in top-notch museum quality.
Mark Witham is the owner and founder of the museum. He said he opened the museum about 13 years ago. He said it wasn’t purposeful that he opened the collection to the public, it just evolved into what it is today. Years ago, he received a donation of five military uniforms from Johnny Champion. 1,200 uniforms later, along with boxes and boxes of donated military artifacts coupled with a small army of volunteers, the museum has attracted quite a following. The collection spans from their oldest item, which dates to 1796, through the current day. Each artifact has at least one story attached to it. Often, one item will spur multiple stories.
Guests to the museum can choose to take a self-guided tour or Witham, or other volunteers, will provide stories about all that is on display in an informal and non-rushed manner. The stories start in the very first room as you will notice an autograph wall. The wall has been signed by each veteran who visited the museum including four medal of honor recipients. Veterans from Iraq, Pearl Harbor, POWs and many others have left their mark of inspiration. Witham shares the stories of the people who penned their name. He said of these veterans’ signatures, and all military artifacts representing veterans contained within the museum, “Our job is to tell their story.”
Throughout the multi-roomed, multi-level museum, guests are surrounded by three-dimensional, tangible history. Items such as an Air Force medal of honor, a brick that was smuggled out from Hanoi Hilton POW camp, a football signed by 30 medal of honor recipients and members of the Green Bay Packers, uniforms representing international military organizations and so much more. Witham said they know the people who wore the uniforms on display, and/or their family members. One uniform, he informed, was worn by a person with the last name of Kerr whose family lives in the Murphy area. Witham provides a small detail of Kerr’s military career, “He was an aviation mechanic. Back then, if you fixed the airplane, you had to fly it. I don’t think he was much of a pilot because he crashed. He ended up in the hospital in 1918, right in the middle of a flu epidemic. He survived that and came back. He went back to school and got three degrees…ended up getting 26 patents in chemical engineering.” Witham uses this story as a lesson in unfulfilled promise when he talks to children. “What if he hadn’t walked away from the airplane? We wouldn’t have the 26 patents. We wouldn’t have his son who went on to be a colonel in the Air Force.” On the tour, one story will lead to another as Witham provides personal details that brings the artifacts to life. Nothing in the museum is a reproduction. All vehicles and radio equipment are in working order.
Witham said they are cognizant about changing out the displays and believes that is why they have so many repeat guests because the artifacts, and stories that accompany the artifacts, change. Depending on who guides guests through the museum, they will hear different stories, because each guide has their favorite stories. Most artifacts are accessible to the guests and, unlike some museums, guests are encouraged to touch the items on display. A popular attraction is a room filled with a variety of military vehicles which guests are welcome to explore.
Witham informs that due to space constraints what is displayed is only about 10% of their collection. A new building will open soon. He never wants to diminish a person’s memories of a loved one because they are unable to display a donated artifact. He has many ideas of how the displays will be arranged to group military branches and time periods.
Even though they are filled beyond what they can display, they are still accepting donations. Witham said, “We don’t ever see this thing stopping. We are in a unique position in that we have produced something that can be passed on.” Two recent donations, a POW bracelet and a jeep, exhibit the diversity of their collection.
They have hosted weddings, bachelor parties, chamber of commerce meetings, scout troops, homeschool groups and many veteran groups over the years.
There is no charge to tour the museum, donations are accepted. Military Heritage Collection North Texas is located at 20798 Country Road 590, Nevada, TX 75173 (16.3 miles from Murphy City Hall). They are open Thurs. – Sun., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (They offer additional hours upon request.) For more information, call 469-434-0396, website: militaryheritagecollection.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on Facebook.