Veterans museum marks 20th anniversary

Veterans Memorial Museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary ensuring that no veteran is forgotten.

The museum in Chehalis, located off Interstate 5 at Exit 77, had a humble beginning. Lee Grimes, the founder of the museum and former executive director, chartered the museum in 1995. The goal was to create a little museum in the corner of a small town where veterans could come together. Little did Grimes know that the museum would grow out of its 2,000-square-foot building in Centralia to a facility of 20,500 square feet.

“It was just a giant step forward and everyone was so elated that this type of facility could be built, especially in a small town area,” he said. “It was like a whole new world opened up for us.”

According to current executive director Chip Duncan, the museum held its grand opening celebration at its current location July 2, 2005. Donations and a couple of small grants helped raise the $1.5 million needed to construct the new building.

Now with a 9,000-square-foot main gallery, 85 display cases, and hundreds of displays honoring veterans, Grimes said it was a great experience to watch the museum expand.

“I had no idea it would progress to this point,” Grimes said. “It took on its own life basically, it became its own entity. … It’s fantastic to see it has succeeded to this point.”

The museum continues to expand, and Grimes said it is working to acquire more vehicles for its display in the parking lot. In addition, it recently opened a unique exhibit focusing on the military’s role in baseball. The exhibit focuses on some local military members who quit their professional baseball careers to fight in both the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.

About a third of the museum’s displays are changed every year. Its library focuses on military history, and a United Service Organizations area provides veterans with a place to sit and have coffee.

Many visitors are surprised at the quality and the quantity of exhibits the museum has to offer, Grimes said.

“I think it’s imperative that everyone stops by,” Grimes said. “The local history we have in here, most people don’t realize how many local people have served in the military and the contributions they made to our freedom.”