2004 Summer Season

Litchfield, CT -- Contact: Janet L. Serra 860-567-4506 lhcvbnwct@aol.com No need to travel to Washington D.C. to celebrate the "Greatest Generation." While the nation's capital is unveiling the long-awaited World War II Memorial with a summer-long salute, a special Northwest Connecticut museum has been offering dramatic tribute to America's war heroes for almost a decade. The Military Museum of Southern New England in Danbury is a deceptively small museum with a great deal to see. Exhibits include the largest existing private collection of heavy fighting vehicles and artillery pieces, as well as vignettes of classic U.S. battles, both skillful life-size dioramas and exquisitely crafted miniatures. Rather than glorifying war, the museum inspires appreciation of how much it takes to safeguard our freedom. A visit is all the more memorable if one of the museum's many volunteer veterans is serving as a guide, offering first-hand accounts and experiences. With the exception of Executive Director Kevin Mara, the museum staff is composed entirely of volunteers. In addition to the classic vehicles that have been donated, purchased or borrowed, the non-profit museum has an inventory of over 10,000 weapons and personal artifacts donated by veterans and their families. Visitors are greeted with an outdoor array of over a dozen army tanks and guns. Many are the armored tanks known as "tank destroyers." These were developed during World War II because the existing tanks were no match for fast-moving German armored divisions. Fleet, hard-hitting tank destroyer battalions were among the most heavily armed and mechanized fighting units in the army. It was an effort to preserve this unique part of World War II history that prompted John Valluzzo, a veteran of the 643rd tank destroyer battalion, to found the museum. Valluzzo, who is still chairman of the board of the museum, donated the land and the old machine shop that now holds exhibits. With other dedicated veterans, he conducted a ten-year fund raising campaign that finally culminated in the museum opening in 1995. The focus has expanded to include all aspects of ground warfare during the 20th and 21st centuries, including World War I, the Korean War and Vietnam. The outdoor equipment, much of it still in running condition, includes many models still in use by the military. They include an example of the M110, the most accurate tank ever made, on permanent loan from the U.S. government. The M110 AI, with an eight-inch self-propelled Howitzer, uses a 250-pound shell that would be powerful enough to level parts of Greenwich or Waterbury, towns over 20 miles away, according to Kevin Mara. On specified Open Turret Days, the public is allowed to climb aboard and see what it was like to man a tank. Turret Days will include Monday, May 31, and the following Saturdays and Sundays: June 26, 27, July 24, 25, August 28, 29, September 25, 26, and October 23, 24th. Inside the museum, two life-like full size dioramas portray fighting in the South Seas and trench warfare during World War I. A third diorama tells the story of the 10th Battalion in the Italian mountains during World War II, the only U. S. ski/mountain division. The displays include vehicles such as an M-18 Tank Destroyer, an M-8 Armored Car, a W.W.I M-1917 Tank, an M-22 Locust tank, and a 105mm Howitzer. Most of these vehicles are restored and operating and have been driven in local parades. One of the rarest exhibits is a Topolino, a German staff car in North Africa, one of the few such vehicles remaining. A final gallery, "The World in Flames, World War II in retrospect," is devoted to artifacts and memorabilia, including archive posters, helmets, uniforms, personal effects and captured flags. Of special interest to many visitors is the Norden Bomb Sight, a device so top secret it was removed from planes and stored in a safe after every mission. One of the most touching exhibits is of the five Sullivan brothers, all killed in action during World War II. A Destroyer, the USS The Sullivans, was named in their honor. The wall of the entry hall to the museum is lined with battle scenes in miniature, rendered in great detail by Richard Dana Kuchta, a talented artist from Fairfield, Connecticut. The Military Museum of Southern New England is located at 125 Park Avenue in Danbury, near I-84 exit 3. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. For information, phone 203-790-9277 or see Military Museumweb site. For more nearby sightseeing and a new free guide to the region, including lodging and maps, contact the Northwest Connecticut Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 968, Litchfield CT. 06759-0968, call 800-663-1273, or check the Internet at Northwest CT web site!