Our nation’s military has been protecting its shores since the Continental Army was organized on June 14, 1775. Since that time, a tremendous amount of military history, including artifacts, has been generated and saved, tucked and kept safe in well-known national museums like the World War II Museum in New Orleans or the National WWI Museum in Kansas City, Mo., or even little rural museums like the Tipton County Museum, Veterans Memorial & Nature Center or the Mid-South Military Museum, Inc., located in Atoka.
Started in 1990, the Mid-South Military Museum, Inc., was idea of two groups of military enthusiasts who merged their resources to start preserving the military items they collected.
“In the beginning, there were two groups, the Confederate Air Force guys and the guys who belonged to the early military vehicle club,” explained Bob McFarland, chairman of the museum. Those two groups merged and formed the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) Mid-South Chapter when the club got started.
McFarland recalls there was a museum in Collierville known as the TN Military Museum and when its president died, the Museum’s board didn’t want to continue the Museum. They reached out to the newly formed MVPA and offered them the defunct-Museum’s vehicles. The MVPA formed the Mid-South Military Museum, Inc., a 501c (3) to maintain the donated equipment and to use it to educated the public on military history.
“They gave us the half-track and the M20,” said McFarland. “We would farm out the two armored pieces and take to events, but it eventually became more than we expected. You needed a really big trailer to haul them around. When I got involved, I said I have this building we could use and said it’ll get us started and we’ll go from there.”
McFarland has always had an interest in military items and began collecting when he was a Boy Scout.
“We used to go to the Army Surplus stores to get equipment for Boy Scout because it was cheaper and I kinda got hooked then,” he said.
McFarland served in the Army from 1961-1964, serving in Korea and then attending finance school.
“I started off as infantry with the 1st Calvary,” said McFarland. “We were stationed up near the DMZ, where they told us if [North Koreans] every came across the line, our life expectancy was about 15 seconds. When I got there, they asked if anyone could type and I told the sergeant I could, but I wasn’t going to tell them that. He said, ‘Boy, if you don’t want to be running up and down these hills every day, you better tell them you can type.’ So, I did and that’s how I ended up in finance,” he added with a laugh.
The Mid-South Military Museum is located on McFarland’s property, but he makes sure folks understand it is not “his” Museum.
“I work it the most because I’m here, and a lot of people think its mine because it’s on my property, but it’s not,” assured McFarland. “I’m just lending them the building until we can get a larger facility.”
In front of the 32’ x 50’ building, visitors will find a Vietnam-era Marine M60 Huey helicopter, which he allows people to sit in and explore. The helicopter was bought by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office years ago from Defense Reutilization Marketing Office (DRMO), the federal government’s “thrift shop,” and then not used for its intended purposes, so it was donated to the Museum.
Inside the Museum are artifacts, uniforms, patches, weapons, and vehicles covering most of America’s military history. There are also life-sized dioramas, including a WWI bunker and a Parisian café, depicting military life which puts one right in the middle of the action. The Museum’s exhibits cover history from the Civil War to the Gulf War.
Members of the Mid-South Chapter of the MVPA help with the Museum and exhibit the vehicles and other equipment at military shows and festivals. They work with military reenactors to show the public how their vehicles and military equipment were used.
“We go to different events to help educate the public,” said McFarland. “We work with a lot of the reenactors, like the Second Marine Division.”
McFarland stresses the purpose of the Museum is to teach people about the importance of military preservation and the sacrifices our military has gone through to keep our country free and safe.
“So many people are throwing this stuff out because they don’t know what they have,” he said. “Or they’re giving it to young people who don’t understand or care about our history. Once we lose it, it is gone. Places like our military museum work to preserve that history so future generations can learn about the importance of our fighting forces.”
The Mid-South Military Museum, Inc., is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but McFarland said it’s best to call before making the drive to Atoka. Large groups should call first to ensure they can be accommodated. There is no charge for the museum, but it does rely on donations to keep it running.
“Since I’m basically the only one here, it’s best to call to make sure I’m not running errands in town or at an event for the weekend,” he said.
The Mid-South Military Museum, Inc. is located at 10021 Old Memphis Rd., Atoka. You can reach Bob McFarland at 901-355-5247 for more information.