It’s natural to be a little bit skeptical when you plan a visit to a Veterans Museum with a child. Will they be bored? Will they be squirmy and anxious to leave? Will they be only interested in the souvenir shop and vending machines? Of course, it very much depends on the personality of the child involved, but during a recent visit to McDonough, GA, it was obvious that having a passionate, entertaining guide with a gift for story-telling can make all the difference in the world.
Last week, my daughter Laura, granddaughter Megan and I spent two days exploring the many attractions in Henry and Clayton Counties just south of Atlanta. We found some great surprises, but one Megan has continued to talk about was our time at the Heritage Park Veterans Museum in McDonough.
Jim Joyce, who is the Head Curator for the museum, was our guide. What a privilege it was to spend time with him and to learn about this place which is clearly a labor of love where he eagerly volunteers.
When the museum opened on Veterans Day in 2010, Jim recalls that they had only “5 glass display cases, 9 mannequins and 15 uniforms.” Now it has grown to a collection of more than 20,000 pieces spanning every war from World War I to the present and includes the Medals of Honor bestowed on two Henry County natives.
Rather than focusing on various wars or battles within those wars, this museum and the team of veteran volunteers who make up the staff choose to focus instead on the stories of individual soldiers whose memorabilia and artifacts are on display. Heroes come to life in unforgettable ways. Everything in the museum was either donated directly or is on long-term loan, meaning that no county or state funds support the project.
Many of the staff members, like Jim, served in combat and had multiple deployments. Jim even mentioned in passing the number of times he had jumped out of airplanes — I believe it was over 300!!! These men are “the real deal.” If you want to see Jim in action for yourself, I would recommend a visit in person, but you can also visit the website or click here to see the short video that Jim narrates.
Jim described to us the three main purposes the museum serves:
- It is a PLACE FOR LEARNING. Schools plan field trips to the museum, because it is such a great teaching facility.
- It is a PLACE FOR REVERANCE. Families come because they have relatives whose belongings are on display, and they need a place to reflect and remember.
- It is a PLACE FOR HEALING. Those who served in our military have sacrificed a LOT for the rest of us, but at the same time, they saw and experienced tragic events and circumstances that are etched painfully in their minds. It helps to realize they are not alone. This is a place where they can shed tears if they need to and talk with others who have the same pain.
Jim is a gifted teacher. I especially appreciated the way he took time to explain displays to my granddaughter so that she would really “get it.” As I quietly quizzed her during the tour, she could often quote Jim back word for word.
I appreciated so much seeing the following verse on the museum’s website — so very appropriate for the place and occasion.
2 Timothy 4:7 – “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
Thank you, Jim Joyce, and all of the veterans you represent for your service to our country.