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Museum highlights Az's military history

State's veterans celebrated with centennial events

PHOENIX — Weaving through aisles of artillery, uniforms and war vehicles in the Arizona Military Museum, retired Army Col. Joseph Abodeely tells of the military endeavors that shaped Arizona, and the ones Arizonans helped shape.

“This is one way to honor veterans,” said Abodeely, who served in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam and is now president of the museum, located at Papago Military Reservation.

The collection is important, he said, because no matter the public opinion of America’s wars, those who fought in them deserve to be recognized.

“Damn the war, but not the warrior,” he said.

Among other exhibits, the museum showcases the Bushmasters, an Arizona National Guard unit that won fame serving under Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II, and the Arizona Rough Riders, who were part of the legendary volunteer cavalry that rode with Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt.

The museum earned the title of Arizona Legacy Project as part of the state’s centennial celebration. With that in mind, the Centennial Commission has developed an exhibit that will highlight military campaigns from an Arizona perspective.

Some of the museum’s artifacts, mainly replicas of weapons, are part of Arizona Best Fest, a centennial festival visiting the three territorial capitals of Prescott, Tucson and Phoenix.

Mandi Wimmer, deputy director of the Centennial Commission, said while things like replicas of guns and military vehicles will draw festival goers, the hope is that they’ll learn more about their state’s background.

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“People will get an education by accident,” Wimmer said.

Arizona’s documented military history, told in this museum and in the traveling exhibit, goes back about 500 years to the conquistadors.

“Military has played a big role, even from the time of the Spanish,” said Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian.

For example, Trimble said, the Arizona National Guard is credited for creating the state’s flag.

He said troops found themselves in need of a flag at a rifle match with other states, so one of the officers designed one, and the wife of future Sen. Carl Hayden sewed it.

Arizona’s diverse terrain makes it ideal for military training, something that benefits the state’s economy.

“In more recent years, Arizona became an arsenal for democracy,” Trimble said.

At the Arizona Military Museum, Abodeely said, the focus goes beyond equipment, bases and training to the people who have served. Because most veterans living in Arizona served during the Vietnam War, an entire room, complete with a Huey helicopter, is dedicated to that conflict.

Vietnam Veterans are scarcely recognized for their efforts, and the extensive display is a way of changing that, he said.

“A lot of guys come in here, especially the Vietnam guys, and now they have a place that they can go,” Abodeely said.

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The military continues to be an important part of Arizona’s identity, an idea that Abodeely hopes the museum conveys.

“I’m passionate about it because it’s in my blood,” he said.

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Whitney Phillips/Cronkite News Service

Retired Army Col. Joseph Abodeely, president of the Arizona Military Museum, explains an exhibit.