Every year there is a reunion of veterans of the 12th Armored Division. Once every four years, the event is put on by the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum in Abilene, Texas, involving a parade that ends up in front of the museum. Museum Curator, William Lynches notes that each year thousands of visitors come to learn about 12th Armored Divisions’ participation in the final months of the war with Nazi Germany.
The museum from street level resembles a west Texas store front more than it looks like a museum. That changes with just a few steps inside that welcome visitors with life-sized displays from the WWII era. The mock up tank immediately draws the attention of children who love to play inside it and stick their heads out of the observation holes in the top.
Guests are greeted by receptionist Emma Montgomery and soon met by the project coordinator for the museum, Jennifer King, who will gladly guide a tour through the 3-story facility.
Throughout the museum there are inlaid red bricks on the floor with gold stars and the names of the 800 men of the Division who lost their lives in war. “There are still some 700 survivors,” King said, “but only a few are strong enough or near enough to come to our annual reunion.”
Touring the building, visitors see the war from different points of view—some from oral interviews with survivors and some from letters written home from the front. the stories are punctuated by actual artifacts that have been donated to the museum.
12th Armored Division troops were involved with the liberation of Hulag #4 Landsburg at the end of the war. One of the exhibits is the Nazi uniform jacket worn by a man who dressed himself in civilian clothes and guided the Allied military through the prison. Some of the former POWs recognized him and he was subsequently arrested.
12th Armored Division was also involved in the capture of Werner Von Braun who later became part of the American military missile program.
Memorial to the Division is in Abilene because of their training at nearby Camp Barkley on land that was confiscated from and later returned to local farmers and ranchers. The 17,000 troops from there, participated in the final five and a half months of the war in Europe. Those months were marked by some of the most brutal attacks of WWII.
In the basement floor of the museum are incredible dioramas of actual scenes from the war. Diorama builder Dan Joplin and Jennifer King have researched the actual scenes and talked with survivors to create authentic three dimensional depiction of some of the most dramatic moments in the war. King said, “When you talk to those men, most of them begin by saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t do anything special.’” That modesty is belied as visitors take in the evidence of a vicious European war in the dead of winter.”
The museum is open year round Monday through Saturday at 1289 N 2nd St, Abilene, Texas.