Honoring Service

Situated on 40 acres at the south end of O’Day Road in Allen County, the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum honors those who have served in all seven branches of the military.
May 8, 2023
Tammy Davis
Tim Brumbeloe

Immediately upon entering the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum, visitors find themselves surrounded by artifacts. Like war itself, there is no easing in. A full-sized torpedo. Scale models of every helicopter flown in the Vietnam War. Trench art, carved on shell casings during lulls in fighting. A rifle from the Spanish-American war. Uniforms, some still showing traces of blood. A restored boxcar from the post-World War II Merci Train. Medals, maps and memorabilia. There’s no ambiguity regarding why the museum exists; every inch of the property honors the service of American military members, from the Revolutionary War to the present.

The Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum came to life in 1951, when Eric and Cleo Scott opened the museum’s first building on their O’Day Road property. Eric Scott, an Army veteran who served in World War I as a member of the Third Infantry Division, Sixth Combat Engineers, had vowed during the Battle of the Marne that “no veteran will ever be forgotten.” He made a promise to God that he would remember every victory if he made it safely home, and the shrine and museum were born of that promise. 

For years, the property served as a gathering place for veterans. The Scotts hosted reunions for the Sixth Combat Engineers, and the memorabilia they collected along the way became the basis for the museum. Their first project was a memorial chapel featuring a 25-bell carillon. Soon, they added a meeting room to their home for reunions and other events. Eventually, they donated the entire property to the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum and its’ board.

After the Scotts’ deaths in the early 1980s, the museum and shrine sat mostly idle until a new board revitalized the property. Today, the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum features some impressive additions, including the permanent installation of an 80%-size replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC. In addition, the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum received the Greater Fort Wayne Aviation Museum’s military artifacts when the latter opted for a digital approach a few years ago. 

Alongside the Vietnam Memorial Wall, visitors wandering the grounds can meditate in a monument garden that honors soldiers from nearly every American war. A picnic area, fire-pit, playground, and ample walking space allow visitors a place for reflection at any hour of the day. 

According to curator and Army veteran Robert Thomas, many more changes are in the works. All the museum’s artifacts will be relocated to the newly constructed W. Paul Wolf War History Museum building in time for its Memorial Day dedication, after which many new exhibits will be added. These include an area dedicated to military weapons, a Ghost Army display and a bamboo cage that respects the experience of prisoners of war. The new space will allow existing space to be converted to a research library and a multipurpose meeting room. 

In addition, a tribute to Korean War veterans will soon be added to the monument garden. Like its inspiration in Washington, DC, the plans include nine, seven-foot-tall statues of Korean War soldiers serving in combat. Unique to this exhibit, however, is that the statues will feature faces of actual Korean War veterans from Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana. 

While the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum offers visitors from all walks of life the opportunity to honor America’s veterans, its most important work engages the veterans themselves. The museum hosts a broad range of support groups for veterans and their families. 

“These groups give veterans a place to talk about what they’ve seen, what they’ve done and what they’ve gone through,” explains Thomas. “They’re around people who understand.”

A new chapel, scheduled for completion later this year, will provide a quiet space for reflection, while a café area in the new museum building offers space for conversation.

“We want veterans to feel comfortable telling their stories here,” Thomas says. 

Board member and Air Force veteran Pat Fraizer believes the museum’s artifacts and their history have the power to bring people together. 

“Whether veterans share their stories or the memorabilia helps someone understand a loved one’s experience, each encounter can be evocative. It connects people like that,” explains Fraizer. “That means a lot.”

With its recent expansion, attendance at the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum has increased by 450% since 2019. Nonetheless, many people in the area remain unaware of its existence or have little knowledge of the treasures it holds. 

Says Thomas of the museum’s artifacts: “It’s just amazing what they brought home.”

Perhaps the true treasure is not the museum or what it holds, but the service to America that gave it life.

The Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum exists by the generosity of its donors and volunteers. To learn how you can contribute time, talent, or treasure, visit the museum’s website at honoringforever.org. 

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