Outside the Gates: Alaska Veterans Museum gets much needed upgrade

The organization gained nearly 1,000 square feet in space to tell the history of military in Alaska
The organization gained nearly 1,000 square feet in space to tell the history of military in Alaska.
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 11:00 AM AKDT|Updated: May. 5, 2022 at 3:00 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In order to begin telling the stories from outside the gates, we first have to go back in time; a look into the past to understand the importance of the role military has had in the 49th state.

The best place to do this is the Alaska Veterans Museum in downtown Anchorage, which on April 23 officially opened its new location doors to the public to not only celebrate its 11th anniversary, but to show off the extra space they desperately needed to showcase its collection. Executive Director Bob Sherrill said it was worth the extra work.

“Now we’re better able to show off each of the eras of Alaska military since 1860′s,” he said. “All the way up to present time.”

Sherrill is an Air Force veteran, serving over 27 years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. His excitement about the new location was ever-present as he greeted every visitor and eagerly took them to the first stop on the chronological tour through history: “Early Territorial Days.”

It’s hard to tell Sherrill has only been with the nonprofit for a few years as he talks about every picture and every artifact that gently sits behind glass frames and cases. Each item has a story he knows how to tell.

“The history is just unbelievable and we love telling about that, all my docents do,” Sherrill said, smiling. “And sometimes we get them to start to tell their stories and that’s always interesting.”

The current exhibit now consists of multiple rooms, each curated to reflect different pieces in time. From the world wars and Alaska Natives’ roles, to special exhibits about the Tuskegee Airmen and women in the military.

The chronological timeline celebrates the decorated history of the military in Alaska, bringing together the individual pieces that created the larger picture. It not only allows a visitor to experience the history of our state but the servicemen and servicewomen who built it.

Suellyn Wright Novak is the founding executive director and a historian emeritus for the organization. Also a 32-year veteran of the Air Force, she’s been with the museum before the physical collection opened in 2011. For Novak, a veteran’s personal experience is equally as important as history.

“If you raised your hand and promised to give your life for the country we want your story,” Novak said.

As part of its oral history program, the museum has 175 recorded interviews with veterans who were willing to speak. Novak called it a great effort, but it’s not enough.

“We need more veterans. We need more of those stories,” Novak stated. 17:46 “...too many veterans will say ‘I didn’t do anything special’. Most of us didn’t. But the reality is this - each individual veteran’s story fills a hole in someone else’s story, and when you put all of these together you’ve got this beautiful kaleidoscope of what service to this country is, and that’s what people need to know.”

The museum is currently open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 and free for children under 5 years old.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct that the Alaska Veterans Museum is open from Monday through Saturday.

Copyright 2022 KTUU. All rights reserved.