Have you ever noticed those jets west of Loop 1 (MoPac Expressway) between the 35th Street and 45th Street exits?
Photo of F-4C Phantom II courtesy of http://www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org
The jets are a high-visibility marker of the location of Camp Mabry, which also houses the Texas Military Forces Museum, a must-see for anyone interested in history, the armed forces, or military transportation. The museum is free and open to the public Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Due to its storied history, Camp Mabry is on the National Register of Historic Places.
To get to the Texas Military Forces Museum, enter Camp Mabry from 35th Street. You will be required to stop at a security area for visitors, where your driver’s license and vehicle license plate are recorded. These post-9/11 security measures might seem intimidating, but the security guards are friendly and you will soon be on your way. When you reach the first stop sign, take a right. At the second stop sign, take another right. (Also note the Camp Mabry exit to your left at the second stop sign for when it is time to head home.) After you pass the P/X and a running track on your left, you will find the museum on your right.
Yes, this is the door to the museum: an adventure awaits!
Inside, you will find a mind-boggling display covering almost 200 years of Texas military history, from militias in Stephen F. Austin’s colony to present day. Exhibits focus on the role of Texas military forces, including militia and volunteer units from the 1800s, Texas Army National Guard from 1903 to present, the Texas Air National Guard, and the Texas Defense Guard/Texas State Guard.
The entrance takes you directly to the Great Hall, which houses large artifacts from horse-drawn wagons to tanks.
It’s not every day you see an airplane hanging from the ceiling!
We visited the Lost Battalion Gallery, which tells the story of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery whose members were taken prisoner March 1, 1942, near the Island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Most members of the group were forced to work building a railroad between Thailand and Burma, including the famous Bridge Over the River Kwai. Survivors were freed after 42 months in captivity. (Some images within the exhibit may be disturbing to younger children.)
The exhibits have clear labels and explanations so the purpose and background of everything on display can easily be understood.
In the Air Guard Gallery, you can take a close look at this jet engine, which weighs 2,455 pounds!
Your children can climb aboard and check out the seating arrangement for themselves. My 10-year-old son thought this was a tight fit!
In the 36th Infantry Gallery, you can view detailed dioramas of different battles. This display shows the taking of Velettri, Italy, by the 36th Infantry on May 29, 1944.
Informative posters help you understand the whole story behind the exhibits.
It was interesting to see this poster describing the 36th Infantry’s experience liberating a small concentration camp near Landsberg, Germany (a sub-camp of Dachau). The poster states, “If American soldiers had been uncertain why they had been fighting since 1941, they now had an answer they would never forget.”
There also is a collection of Nazi artifacts, still unnerving decades later.
My biggest “aha!” moment was seeing these anti-tank obstacles….now I know what those little pieces were in the kids’ army sets!
Kids fascinated by firefighting vehicles will love this U.S. Army fire truck!
Did you know that Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat soldier in U.S. history at the time of his death, was a member of the Texas National Guard?
While the museum has displayed artifacts related to the Texas Revolution for a long time, these new explanations and timelines were very helpful.
This Tenth Texas Cavalry Regiment flag is from the Civil War.
We have been visiting the museum for many years, so we were pleasantly surprised to find the new exhibit gallery covering the Cold War to the Global War on Terror.
You can even see a piece of the Berlin Wall!
If your kids really don’t want to hear about the Cold War (just try to explain it!), they might be more interested in this display of dime store toy soldiers from the 1930s.
Unlike most museums, the Texas Military Forces Museum has a significant outdoor component: Armor Row and Artillery Park.
The kids were happy to stretch their legs and explore the giant military vehicles.
All of the fascinating artifacts on display had sparked their imaginations, so the boys devised a “battle” of their own behind this barricade.
The Texas Military Forces Museum is in the process of being renovated and expanded. Whether you’ve been there often in the past or are a first-time visitor, you will find something new to learn about!
Austin Active Kids Opinion: An informative and easy outing packed with opportunities to cover important educational and historical topics.
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Reminders: If you have not talked to your children about the 9/11 tragedy, think about whether you want to visit the Global War on Terror Gallery. There is a picture of the World Trade Center burning, but it is not graphic. Any discussion of the War on Terror would be incomplete without including 9/11, so plan ahead on how you want to handle this. The track at Camp Mabry is open to the public if you or the kids would like to go for a walk or jog after you visit the museum.