It was in early September, 1995, when U.S. Air Force veteran of the Korean War Roger Gisler founded and opened the doors to what is now the Veteran’s Military Museum.
Located at 9 N. Washington St., in Sonora, the museum was designed to hold all types of wartime artifacts such as medals, flags, old weapons, uniforms, instruments and more. People from all around the country bring in their family’s items and photos, including things owned personally if they themselves served.
When the museum first opened, the only items they had were a couple of helmets, a flag, a lot of paperwork, and a few uniforms. Now every room, top to bottom is covered in all sorts of memorabilia; the volunteers like to joke how the only place that doesn’t have any items displayed is the ceiling.
Weaponry on display is non-operational and there are items to explore from multiple wars such as the Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and items from the 1980s up to present day.
The museum was created to honor those that have fought for the freedom of America, and to provide a living history lesson for all ages.
Currently the museum is open Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Since the museum is almost in the heart of downtown Sonora, and close to Sonora High School, many classes from there and surrounding elementary schools schedule field trips so the students have the opportunity to learn more about history by viewing the educational displays.
The current curator who also is the lead in giving school tours for the museum is Air Force veteran Steve Wilson. He took over the position in 2001 after founder Roger Gisler had a stroke in late 2000 that left him hospitalized for quite some time. Wilson has been volunteering with the museum since 1997.
“I have been fortunate enough to talk to so many veterans from WWII and up and be able to show them the museum,” he stated.
Wilson explained how items are donated outright to the museum or offered on loan, which allows the owner to take them back later if they so choose.
Those with items to donate or loan can contact volunteers at the museum during regular hours or call 209-533-0923.
“If you go ask a younger person about our history they don’t know much, and schools only get a certain amount of time to teach a specific era,” Wilson pointed out. “Having a place like this, allows more time to learn about what happened, why it happened, and what we did about it.”
The museum collection continues to grow, and their need for volunteers also continues to grow. The museum is always looking for anyone interested in volunteering; again, call or stop in during open hours.
Wilson expressed how the museum is not there to glorify any war, but to highlight its impact on history and honor both the men and women who served during those wars.
The museum has plenty to see, offering up stories and a lot of history.