Pieces of Missouri's military history likely are hiding in attics, sheds and basements across the state.
As the service members die, their children may not recognize the value of the memorabilia. They could end up in a Dumpster or an antique store.
The Missouri Museum of Military History has been filled in the last 25 years by these items recovered by the Missouri Society for Military History or donated by the owners.
The society formed in the late 1980s specifically for the purpose of collecting historic memorabilia related to Missourians in military service.
Eventually, they needed a place to house and display what they were preserving. And the Missouri National Guard provided Thomas Hall as the first building space in April 1999.
The society has continued to seek rare and significant pieces, perhaps at a faster clip than when it started.
"Things are disappearing," society member Pete Oetting.
Collecting has become easier over the years as awareness about the society's mission spreads, Oetting said.
More than 5,000 artifacts have been collected by the society, not counting photographs and documents.
One of the most recent acquisition was a collection from the Joplin area. With a higher price tag than most pieces the society finds, they partnered with the Missouri National Guard Association to purchase the large and rare collection.
The cap was trimmed with real gold thread and the medals were numbered, because so few were given out. The society members were impressed with the tunic's quality and seeing a Missouri unit's logo on a license plate topper.
For Oetting, the photograph albums are the richest treasures. The Joplin collection's albums showed Guard camps and sites no longer in existence.
What really makes this collection remarkable is the personal stories that tie directly to the items, he said.
"We like the stories behind them," Oetting said. "What better place than to be on display for young men and women to see?"
With the new 6,500-square-feet exhibit space due to open this summer, many more of the society's items will be on display for museum visitors.
"Without a central location to display it, why collect," Wiegers said. "From nothing in 1989 to this beautiful new building is a statement in itself."
They hope this is the beginning of a new partnership with the Guard association, too.
"Wherever there's a need, we try to step in," said Joel Denney, association executive director.
In addition to help with fundraising, the association could connect potential donors with the society, he said.
"We're not a rich organization," said Lt. Colonel Larry Crowder, association president. "But I'd like for this to be a line item."
What eventual visitors to the new museum may not see is the paper resources and reference material the society has collected.
Missouri military history dates back to Ste. Genevieve in 1751.
When society president Robert Wiegers began researching Missouri armories decades ago, he had to go to a number of libraries to find pieces of the military history.
Now, this museum has become his first research stop, he said.
Private collectors and county museums have different things in their collections, Oetting said.
In the future, the society hopes to develop better relationships with those holders for sharing copies and loaned exhibits.
Members are available to do presentations for community groups.
Call 573-638-9603 for more information.