AAF Tank Museum, Danville, Virginia

 

Where Gumbo Was (#289)

This awesome museum is located at 3401 U.S. Highway 29 just as you enter Danville going south. It was an approximate 3 hour drive from my house in central Virginia near Route I-64 to Danville which is located directly on the border between Virginia and North Carolina. 

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The Dan River was named by an early 1700’s English colonist, William Byrd, who was sent on an expedition to map the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina. Dan was a Kingdom of Israel city mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. A village grew up near Byrd’s camping site and was called “Wynne’s Falls” and later changed to Danville in 1793.

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I initially learned about this place from a fellow military veteran who told me that I just cannot miss seeing this museum being an Army veteran, though I was not an armor unit specialist. It took me four years to make the journey in hopes of capturing some good images to share with my TravelGumbo comrades.

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There wasn’t much to glean from the handout at the entrance desk. I was warned of the strict rules ahead of my visit: cameras using a flash would be confiscated, no gum chewing, no yelling or climbing on exhibits, no touching of any glass displays, and children under 12 must have adult accompaniment. Not as strict as my old Army days, but there were a number of custodians and the owner who rode around the museum in electric carts looking for any violators. 

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Be aware that visiting hours are only on Friday and Saturdays between 10 am to 4 pm. Last ticket is sold at 3:15 pm, which is not so well advertised. I happened to arrive at exactly 3:15 pm and I think the only reason they let me in was that I told them I was going to take photos for TravelGumbo and give them some additional exposure. 

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After taking a few photos, at 3:30 my camera battery expired and I found an outlet hoping to get a little recharge power. The loud speaker then came to life warning everyone about the impending closing time and to start making your way to the exit. Fortunately, I sat on a bench next to another veteran, Manny Brooks from Greensboro North Carolina who told me he was taking photos for hours and offered to sent them to me for TravelGumbo. So, I thank him for use of some of his photos in my blog. 

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I did finally capture a few more photos with my weak battery and sprinted to the exit, avoiding the owner's scrutiny and that of his minions. The museum is listed as a memorial dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces. The collection consists of over 500 years of international tank and cavalry history. My father was an armored cavalry combat veteran of World War II, so it meant a lot to me.

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According to their web site, the Tank Museum has the most extensive collection of international Tank & Cavalry artifacts in the world. I have to believe it! This museum was gargantuan and the tanks were mostly in fantastic condition. The museum map defined many exhibit areas for weapons, uniforms, optics, rifles, Hall of Generals, laboratory, and battlefield displays.  Manny told me that the museum was once located in Mattituck, New York but when the owner applied for an expansion of the museum to accommodate more items, he was denied. A Virginia native then told him he would give him the buildings and all the land he needed if he would move the museum to Danville, and that is what happened. 

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The museum was easy to navigate and parking was plentiful. If you check their web site for dates and times, they also conduct live demonstrations of tanks crushing automobiles, live fire, and war gaming. The day I visited was the biggest attraction which is Flame Thrower day. I missed it, but Manny made a short video. Although he said he was a long way from the demonstration, he felt like the proverbial roasted marshmallow at the campfire. If you are a former military member or a historian interested in military weaponry, you will surely enjoy this place. 

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