World War II veteran finds home for Military History Museum in Broken Arrow; museum to open in Nov.

BROKEN ARROW -- For decades, R.W. Bob Powell has been collecting military memorabilia. It was in 1960, when he was given his first item that now sits in the Oklahoma Military Museum. On display is also his glider pilot uniform from his military days.

Col. Powell enlisted in Nov. 1940 and served 20 years active duty in the U.S. Air Force, and seven years inactive reserve.

In 1989, Mayor Susan Savage asked Powell to form a commemorative organization to bring World War II veterans to Tulsa.

"From 1991 to 1995, that's what I did. I brought 27 large reunions to Tulsa."

When that task was completed, Powell was inspired to do more for his fellow veterans. It was then that he set out to create a military history museum.

"I wanted to take artifacts and stories and interviews with veterans and put them together, and I wanted to reach out to not only the baby boomers, but I wanted to reach out the kids…  and the best thing to do was to have a place where school kids could see and touch and hear the stories of Oklahomans."

He attempted to find a location for the museum on the Tulsa fairgrounds, in Claremore and Muskogee, but was unable to secure a home for the museum. That was until 2001, when the principal of Memorial High School, John McGinnis, invited Powell to create "The War Room" at the north end of the school's library.

In 2006, Memorial High School underwent renovations, and Powell moved The War Room to a vacant office building in south Tulsa. About 18 months ago, Powell was presented with an offer for a more permanent home for the museum.

"The mayor of Broken Arrow wrote me a letter and said that they would find me a home if I would move to Broken Arrow."

Powell accepted the offer, and preparations began to transform the old Franklin Hospital building in downtown Broken Arrow into the Military History Museum. About $350,000 went into renovating the 7,000 square-foot facility.

The new building, located at 122 N. Main St., has more than enough space for the memorabilia Powell has been collecting for decades.

"People started bringing me old uniforms and memorabilia from World War II. I didn't know what to do with it, so I stored this stuff.  Gradually, someone said, ‘Bob you've got enough stuff to start a museum.'

"When we moved over to our last place, we had a two-story-building, and we really started collecting stuff."

Powell said a number of the items in the museum came from attics and garage sales, and even a few he has rescued from the trash.

"I have items that are worth thousands of dollars that I've taken out of the garbage because it was thrown away because they had no use for it."

Through the Military History Museum, Powell hopes to educate locals on the significance of these items.

"The young people of today don't know a thing about World War II and what it implied to Oklahoma, to Oklahomans who were in uniform and to families of Oklahomans and I wanted to do something to pass on the knowledge."

After years of searching, Powell said this location is better than anything he could have imagined.

"It is a sense and  a mixture of relief, satisfaction and a sense of achievement. Up until this place, we have never had a home, now we have a home and we have a base and from that we can reach out."

Organizers say it will take several months to get to the museum up and running, but expect to open the doors to the public around Veterans Day of this year.

Until then, the Powell is asking locals to clear out their attics, garages and basements and bring their military artifacts to the Military History Museum.

"If you don't know what it's worth, bring it to me; I've got people that can evaluate it and tell whether it's worth saving or not, and nine times out of 10, it is," Powell said.

Military History Museum is a 501c3 non-profit organization. For more information, visit okmhm.org or call 918-794-2712.

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