WATERLOO — For 10 years the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo has honored veterans and their families.
“When I think back 10 years ago I was fresh out of college, and I certainly didn’t know the magnitude of what I was getting into with my first job,” said Christy Decker, Grout Museum director of marketing and tourism.
When Decker started, the museum was literally a hole in the ground. The 30,000-square-foot building, part of the Grout Museum District, opened Nov. 15, 2008.
The museum will celebrate its 10th anniversary over five days kicking off Saturday when admission will be free for everyone from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“What we want to do is celebrate all that we’ve done and what we are and what we have to offer the community,” Decker said.
On Sunday — Veterans Day — admission will be free for veterans and active duty service members from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and from Tuesday to Thursday as well. A Wednesday morning veterans coffee with donuts will be sponsored by Rockets Bakery. Mayor Quentin Hart will attend, and a group of Navy chief petty officers from around the upper Midwest also will visit.
“No big flashy expensive banquets, we just want this to be a fun celebration,” Decker said.
The five Sullivan brothers’ famously enlisted in the U.S. Navy together, and died Nov. 13, 1942, in the sinking of the USS Juneau during the naval battle of Guadalcanal.
There has been plenty of interest in their story over the years, beginning with the 1942 Hollywood film, “The Fighting Sullivans.” The 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan” was partly inspired by their story.
“When Steven Spielberg accepted the Oscar for Best Director he credited the Sullivan family,” said Pat Kinney, Korean content development specialist at the Grout.
Kinney covered many Sullivans-related events over the years as a reporter for The Courier, including the museum’s opening.
He says for years many veterans, especially World War II veterans, didn’t talk about their stories. That’s why it’s important the Grout Museum began recording oral histories from Iowa veterans in 1998.
Today there are close to 2,000 interviews with veterans, and from those on the home front.
“The thought was we ought to have a place that’s not only a repository for those interviews, but to show them off and show conflicts and honor them,” Kinney said. “This museum is about the vets and people on the home front, what they went through, what they suffered.”
The veterans museum holds exhibits going to back the Civil War through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is an extension to the Grout Museum, which opened in 1956 to house a collection from Henry Grout, a state legislator and philanthropist.
“It makes me feel humbled that we were able to build this place and dedicate it to the memory of veterans and share their stories and know they’re preserved,” said Billie Bailey, museum director. “When I’m gone and my daughter’s gone, they’ll still be there and people will still have access to the emotions and the experiences that people who have before them have experienced.”