American Heritage Museum celebrates grand opening
STOW, Mass. (AP) — John Katsaros flew a B-17 bomber during World War II, but he rarely saw tanks and ground support.
But on Thursday, the 95-year-old did just that at the Collings Foundation’s American Heritage Museum, taking in the sights of a Higgins Boat used on D-Day to get soldiers on the shores of Normandy and an M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” tank.
“We’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” Katsaros said of the museum’s opening. “I never expected it to be so huge and to have so many artifacts here. People from all over the world should come here and they’ll never see anything like it.”
During the museum’s grand opening, hundreds gathered as the foundation celebrated the journey it took to make the museum happen. The Concord Independent Battery fired a pair of Ames cannons from 1844 at the conclusion of the ceremony.
The concept began when the foundation was selected to receive the world’s largest privately-held collection of tanks, armored vehicles and military artifacts from the family of Jacques M. Littlefield in 2013. The foundation whittled the collection down from 200 items to 85 to be displayed.
CEO Rob Collings said they wanted to design the 65,000-square-foot space to tell an “encompassing narrative” from World War I to today. It includes an interactive display of a World War 1 trench.
“We are fortunate enough to have the first American tank here and the most recent American tank to tell this,” he said.
Along with military vehicles, the museum features uniforms, a section of the Berlin Wall and a piece of the World Trade Center from Sept. 11, 2001.
Bob Collings, co-founder of the foundation, paid tribute to the American military members who died in battle and veterans who are still alive.
“There are about 20 artifacts where the only place you will see them is here,” he said.
Some of the items include the modern day M1A1 Abrams tank, T-34 tank, Sdkfz. 222 armored vehicle, Jumbo Sherman tank, Ho-Ro tank, Iraqi SCUD missile and launcher, IS-2 tank and more.
After the ceremony, Katsaros and his wife, Mary, looked at the Japanese Ho-Ro tank.
“It looks like it’s been through a lot,” Mary Katsaros said.
After his plane was shot down, Katsaros escaped with the French Resistance movement.
The museum will help preserve history, he said.
“You have to have an interest in it, because war is terrible and you want to stay out of it,” he said. “Maybe the kids of today will learn better than we in the past.”
Christian de Marcken, 91, of Worcester, who served in World War II, said he went to the Stow Planning Board to support the project. The board signed off on the plans after a roadway was built from Main Street in Hudson.
He was joined at the opening by his wife, Jeanne.
“It’s very emotional,” Christian de Marcken said. “But it’s fantastic, you wonder how it’s possible to put so much together not only the equipment, but the movies and backgrounds.”
Information from: MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Mass.), http://www.metrowestdailynews.com