You can tell from the moment you meet him, Tate Jones comes alive when he talks about military history. Stan Cohen? Hayes Otoupalik? They do too. They all come alive, and their passion shows.
And it’s hard to not get sucked in by the stories all around you when you are walking through their favorite place on Earth: the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, a building jam packed with pieces of America’s past.
"This is as close as many people will come in Western Montana to ever visiting Normandy, or looking at the battlefields of Vietnam. We can't provide that of course." Jones says. He has been the Executive Director of the museum for nearly two decades.
But what these men can provide is perspective. The museum has been open at Fort Missoula for nearly 20 years, and it’s truly a public place. It’s the public themselves that has helped compile this massive collection.
"Every week someone brings in a box of materials for me from their family.” Jones says. “There is quite a lot of history in the attics of Western Montana."
And those materials span nearly three centuries.
"You go to a lot of museums, and they are dedicated to a small niche area.” Otoupalik says. “But the Rocky Mountain Museum goes from the foundation of our nation to the present day conflicts in Afghanistan."
"Believe me, every day, someone walks in and has a story to tell, from all over the country, that's the fun part, and showing people what we have here." says Stan Cohen, a local author of four dozen military history books on a wide variety of subjects.
It’s that sense of reverence that they do their jobs to honor others, and honor those who have protects their freedoms and their nation.
"It's an immense feeling of goodness to display those artifacts with care and attention and reverence to the people that used them in their capacity as military veterans and in wars in the past in our country." says Otoupalik.
"In a sense, it's always Veteran's Day and Memorial Day at this museum, but that is the day that we can provide a meeting place for the veteran and the generally interested person to come together and get a full appreciation of what these conflicts meant to America and what they meant to history." says Jones.
So this building will stand as a gathering place; one of remembrance and honor. But also, a building of teaching and celebration. And on this Veteran’s Day, it will stand as a memorial for the men and women who have served and fought to keep us all free. The Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History – this week’s Montana Treasure.
If you would like to visit the museum, you can visit their website