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Arms and Armor Collection of the Thunderbirds and Bill Mauldin

1952 Patton Tank at 45Th Infantry Museum Oklahoma City photoI used to build a lot of models as a kid. Army models, tanks and half-tracks, planes and artillery from the likes of Revell and Monogram. On visit to the 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City, a walk through the 15 Thunderbird Park outside the former armory which houses the museum, I felt like I had been shrunk down to miniature 1/16 scale and was among the full sized real versions of military vehicles, so familiar. The park features 60 different varieties of tracked vehicles from different conflict eras, from World War II Sherman Tanks, Korean Era Pattons, to M1 Abrams, tracked and stationary Howitzers and Armored Personnel Carriers, all marked by plaques and arranged along walkways through landscaped grounds lined with trees and shrubs as if an unseen enemy might be advancing on the far side of the river. But the outdoor large armaments display is only a signal of what is inside - one of the best military arms collections to be found anywhere.

45th Infantry Museum Armory Building photoThe Oklahoma based 45th Infantry has fascinating history, especially for its major part in the battles of the European theater of WWII. The 45th Infantry Division was first created following WWI in 1923 at Fort Sill Oklahoma as a National Guard Unit by the National Defense Act, covering four states Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Before the outbreak of the Secord World War, the division was called upon to maintain order in times of disasters and keep peace during periods of political unrest during the depression and the days of the dust bowl. Curiously the original insignia of the unit was a Native American symbol of a Swastika, in yellow on red, actually the first military organization to use it. But when the German Nazi Party adopted the same form and so associated with it, the 45th had to find a new emblem. After a contest, the Native American symbol of the Thunderbird was adopted as identity insignia of the Oklahoma division.

WWI Machine Guns at 45th Infantry Museum photoIn World War II the Thunderbirds would meet the Nazis, fighting under General George Patton in Sicily and up through Europe to the Battle of the Bulge and into Germany. The 45th Infantry was one of the units to liberate the last town in France in 1945 along the Moder River in the Vosges Mountains west of the Rhine (see Pfaffenhoffen) , would be the unit to discover the horrors of the Dachau Concentration Camp (see Dachau Holocaust), and would reach Hitler’s personal bunker in Munich and the Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.

Bill Mauldin Willy and Joe Cartoon photoBill Mauldin’s Willy and Joe, mud-covered soldiers who represented the everyman in the war were inspired by Oklahoma boys in the 45th Infantry where Mauldin served in the press corps of the unit during the Invasion of Sicily and the Italian Campaign. He later roamed about the front for the Stars and Stripes, but never forgot his connection the 45th and donated his personal collection of cartoons, illustrations, photgraphs and letters, on display in their own dedicated section. Also in the museum among the amazing collection of arms from the Reaves Weapons Collection covering historical conflicts from the American Revolution, the Civil War, two World Wars and Korea, is the collection of Hitler and Nazi artifacts, brought back from Bavaria. There are more items which once belonged to Adolf in Oklahoma, than left in Europe.

Visiting the 45th Infantry Division Museum

Nazi Hitler Collection 45th Infantry Museum photoThe 45th Infantry Division Museum is located at 2145 N.E. 36th Street, just East of Martin Luther King Avenue South of Remington Park and the Oklahoma City Zoo. The hours are Tuesday to Friday 9 am to 4:15 pm, Saturday 10 am to 4:15 pm and on Sunday opening at 1 pm. Admission to the museum if free, though donations are appreciated. The outdoor Thunderbird Park closes at 5 pm. Touring the museum is self-guided, though you will usually encounter a docent on duty who served with the unit who can offer highlights and perspective. Allow plenty of time as there is a lot to explore. Nearby the 45th Infantry military museum are some other curious museums to be found in Oklahoma City, the Railroad Museum (see
Oklahoma Railway Museum, Woman’s Softball Association Museum, Firefighters Museum and the Zoo. © Bargain Travel West

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45th Infantry Museum

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