Celebrating yet another milestone, the board members and other volunteers at American Veterans First hosted a Grand Opening of its military museum at the organization’s 6436 Oakdale Road headquarters on Saturday morning, July 30.
The many family members, spouses, veterans and other volunteers in attendance were welcomed by AVF CEO Duke Cooper, who introduced the board members and volunteers who help the organization function.
Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran himself, has collected military artifacts through the years and noted that AVF will be celebrating six years in service to the community this month.
The current space they are in has allowed them to construct the museum. With a love for museums since he was kid, Cooper had a dream to establish a military museum.
“I want the museum to be a history lesson,” said Cooper. “That is my dream; to teach history in there but we will teach the correct history.”
The museum has a plethora of military items on display, like a flag from 1876, a flag that was flown over the Pentagon during 9/11, bayonets, flashlights, and several weapons from the late 1700s through World War II.
“For me I saw this a while back, history is not there for you to like or dislike, it is there for you to learn from it,” stated Cooper. “If it offends you even better because then you are less likely to repeat it. It is not yours to erase or destroy. You cannot erase history.”
Among the unique memorabilia, they have Uncle Charlie’s World War I uniform that was contributed by one of the board members. He was a medic during WWI and the uniform is complete from the boots to the helmet. There is a photograph of him sitting on a horse drawn medic wagon.
Cooper also pointed out the display by one of the veteran volunteers of a number of weapons of war and related equipment, from the Revolutionary War era down through the Civil War and later. Those featured included muzzle-loading rifles from the 1700s and Colt .45 revolvers from the 1860s.
In pointing out this display area in the museum, Cooper noted that the guns wouldn’t remain there permanently until AVF could locate a suitable gun safe to store them in after business hours, to keep them locked up.
Displays covered the walls, featuring uniforms, flags, display cases and other military paraphernalia, with mannequins wearing some of the uniforms.
The museum grand opening event was held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and featured cold cuts and salad provided for visitors by the group.
But more than a chance to socialize and enjoy a light snack, the grand opening gave those in attendance an opportunity to appreciate all that is on display.
“You go through here and you are like wow,” added Cooper. “We are their voice now. Good Day Sacramento was here. They loved our museum and our building. They plan to come back.”
Gloria Robertson is the Director of the Museum and Cooper noted that she and the team did a great job putting the museum together.
He said, “She has put her heart and soul into this. With the work that went in Gloria was overwhelmed but she stood the test of time and did a great job. I am proud of the whole team. We have the best team that we have ever had. I give all the credit to the team.”
“It was a labor of love,” expressed Robertson. “I couldn’t have done it without everybody else’s support. I did not do this on my own by no means. It was a team effort. I work with a bunch of really heartful wonderful people that are there for all the same reasons and it just came together.”
Robertson has been with AVF for over a year. She began volunteering after she was laid off of work due to COVID. After connecting with AVF Executive Secretary Paige McLaughlin, her adventure with AVF began.
“I thought do I really want to go back to work or do I want to do something a little more meaningful, something that was going to give back to the community and a little bit more heart driven,” remarked Robertson. “I was looking for volunteer work to fill my time and Paige came through and I thought I am going to give this a shot. I don’t regret it one bit.”
There are no paid positions with AVF.
“It was challenging in the sense that there were long hours,” added Robertson. “None of us get paid so this is a non-salary position but what you don’t get paid in salary you get so much more in fulfillment of your heart and your soul. Working is one thing and this is a whole different level.”
They had guests visiting the museum throughout the day and the attendance exceeded their expectations.
“It seemed like everyday somebody would come in and say I got this and I got that as we got close to the opening,” explained Robertson of items coming in for display. “We tried really hard to make sure that we included everybody. The good thing is that we were really able to decorate it with a lot of meaningful artifacts, articles, pictures, clothing, and flags that were in families for hundreds of years. It just really came together. It was a sheer miracle. We are very proud of it. It was everybody chipping in. Everyone was driven to do the same thing and that was to honor our fallen veterans, first responders and people that have given us our freedoms.”
A highlight for Robertson during the Grand Opening of the museum was how several small businesses donated things for the event whether it was raffle items for the gift baskets or food.
She said, “It is amazing how many small businesses, not necessarily big corporations, but small businesses came through to help us and that was amazing and unexpected and appreciated. It was very cool.”
Another big highlight that Robertson noted was the coverage from Good Day Sacramento so that they can reach more people.
Robertson added that their goal beyond the grand opening is to share a part of history with the public and connect with schools to do tours and educational trips.
The museum is open to the public Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
News Correspondent Ric McGinnis contributed to this story.