Laying inside of one of the first display cases at the new Webb Military Museum is an old photograph. It’s not of a war, just an ordinary photo of a man in 1849, but upon flipping the image over, Gary Webb, the owner of this new museum at 411 E. York Street in Downtown Savannah, discovered a note on the back that read: went west during the gold rush of 1849, age 20, never heard from again, supposedly killed by Indians.
This photograph is just one of many items in the museum sharing the surreal stories from the different wars that our country was involved in. This particular snapshot sits in a section about the Indian Wars, but there are others throughout the museum along with other personal effects from soldiers in everything from the Spanish-American War to Iraq Wars.
It’s not a museum meant to report facts and figures about the strategies used and the outcomes of those wars, but instead a museum carried by stories through the eyes of those who were there. Diaries and notes sit beside the uniforms to give guests a glimpse into their lives.
“It’s a museum based on people and their stories, not necessarily a history lesson,” Webb explains. “What I’m trying to do is humanize it or put some emotion into it, so they’re not just uniforms.”
But it isn’t just small artifacts and uniforms that Webb has; he also has a Russian-made MiG (a jet fighter aircraft) from East Germany and several other notable items, including napkins from Hitler’s Berghof (his mountain retreat) and a uniform that belonged to Saddam Hussein, which was taken from one of his palaces.
A walk through the 2500-square-foot museum may take guests about 40 minutes, but Webb (pictured above) has witnessed several people circle back because they missed something and wanted to discover more. Some spend an hour or hour and a half diving into the different sections.
“It’s just big enough,” says Webb. “This, to me, gives a little bit of each war and you hit all these different uniforms. You see them go from grey to blue to brown, green and camouflage, so it kind of takes you on a history of the uniforms along with the stories that go along with it.”
Uniforms are where it all started, anyways. The very first item Webb got, that started his fascination and collection, was a German pilot’s hat that his mother wanted to throw out, but didn’t because he discovered a photograph of the soldier’s family tucked inside of it.
“You have to look at this stuff as someone was wearing it,” Webb explains. “It’s like when I got the hat, my mother said, ‘Well, I guess the German mothers cried for their kids too.’”
Webb Military Museum is located at 411 E. York Street, between Columbia Square and Greene Square, and is open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for children and free for active duty military. For more information, go to webbmilitarymuseum.com or call them at (912) 663-0398.