REVIEW: Museum of the Kansas National Guard [History Tour]

Before the present pre-Mad Max world we live in (high gas prices), my son and I ventured into the balmy depths of Kansas for the abundance of museums and historical sites throughout numerous cities. Last year, it was normally Civil War and Frontier Fort stuff we were interested in, so we wanted to broaden our horizons a bit. Topeka was perhaps the biggest draw for us – both for the relative ease of traveling on one highway (I-70) for the entire trip, and the sheer amount of things we were interested in.

Knowing that seeing things like planes, tanks, and military equipment is usually a top draw for most little boys, we decided to head to The Museum of the Kansas National Guard which is located within a huge airport complex near the actual Army National Guard training grounds. There are actually three museums within a short distance of each other here, this one, the Combat Air Museum, and the American Flight Museum. We had originally planned to visit all three, but time constraints made it to where we have yet to visit the American Flight Museum, but a trip there is forthcoming. If you are looking for a summer idea and are around the Kansas City area, check this out!

As you can see, a quick Google Search gives us tons of ideas for suture trips out Westward:

A selection of Topeka-area museums

Museum of the Kansas National Guard; Topeka, Kansas

The best part of this museum is that the admission is absolutely free. That isn’t to say that most museums around are priced in a ridiculous manner, but free is free and if you are like me, any sort of relief from inflation is a great help. An informational website can be found HERE, that shows some of the items you will see at the site as well as digital exhibitions.

“Located in Topeka, Kansas, the Museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Kansas National Guard and honoring the memories of the Soldiers and Airmen who, for over 160 years, have served Kansas and the United States whenever the call was made.”

Museum homepage

Background:

The Museum of the Kansas National Guard is a relatively new addition to Topeka, Kansas, but the amount of interesting artifacts is pretty numerous for a “free” museum. Their website details the history of the site itself:

“The Museum of the Kansas National Guard became a reality on February 1, 1997, when it opened its doors for the first time. It had taken 12 years of work and $700,000 of donated money and time, but today the completed Museum sits near the main entrance of Forbes Field Air Force Base, home of several Air and Army Kansas National Guard units. In addition to the museum displays, library and artifact storage, the 18,000 square-foot facility also houses the National Guard Association of Kansas and the Enlisted Association of the Kansas National Guard. This collection of occupants makes the Museum a true center for the preservation of the militia heritage of the Kansas Army and Air National Guard.”

Reading(s):

For this trip, I purchased a book called A Guard in Peace and War: The History of the Kansas National Guard, 1854-1987 from the museum giftshop. It’s an older book, but outlines the history of The Kansas National Guard from its creation to (somewhat) modern times. Due to the age of the book, I was worried that the price would be crazy (as it is online) but it was something like only five dollars.

The Trip:

If you are like me and want to avoid aimlessly driving around things and would rather pay a few bucks to avoid terrible roads and detours, I would recommend getting a K-Tag for the Kansas Turnpike. On this very trip, a mixture of my GPS telling me the wrong thing and poor signage caused me to inadvertently run a toll road exit resulting in a twenty dollar bill! Ever since then I have had no issues as the Tolling system keeps track of where you are and can automatically deduct funds for where you travel without fumbling for quarters or dealing with long wait lines. If you are in Missouri, and want to go anywhere in Kansas on I-70, this is an absolute MUST.

This museum is set up in two, arguably three parts. The Museum building itself, the Lawn of the museum, and a garage in the back of the lawn. The main building showcases donated items from as far back as the start of the country, through every war and military action the US has been involved in, to today. Tons of military uniforms, weapons, war mementos, surplus military equipment and personal photographs cover the sprawling floorspace. It’s not as cluttered as some museums, but it has a LOT of items. The highlight for me was a re-creation of a Korean war-era M.A.S.H. hospital, mostly because my grandfather fought in that war.

The outside lawn is the most noticeable portion of the museum, with numerous tanks, artillery pieces, APCs, and even jets littering the immense grounds. Behind the building is absolutely crowded with all manner of military vehicle, which was the highlight for both me and my son. As mentioned, there is a garage in this area that houses some of the same equipment, including a helicopter and some machine guns, with its own series of interpretive signs and placards.

Conclusion:

Overall, this was a fun museum, and you really can’t beat free admission. We went on somewhat of a muddy day, so walking around outside was not ideal. Come prepared for any weather you might run into. With how hot it is now, I’d recommend sunscreen and a hat if you can swing it. This museum has a lot of stuff, and will easily fill an hour or two for you and your family. Children will love seeing the large-scale military vehicles, and the toys in the giftshop.

See More:

For more history-related traveling ideas, check out last year’s History Boy Summer and my History section for things like book reviews. Stay tuned for more of thee as I have been hitting some museums hard, but have been lazy and not writing about it – oops!

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