AHM brings story of armor, tanks, war and history to lifeApr 08, 2021 02:28PM ● By Rod Lee
The display that greets visitors when they arrive at the American Heritage Museum in Stow.
Proud as members of the Collings Foundation family are about the impressive array of tanks, armor and military apparatus that has been assembled at the American Heritage Museum in Stow, the real satisfaction for them comes in knowing the people and the history behind the exhibits and the stories of battles from the Revolutionary War to the present day.
Jacques M. Littlefield is one of those individuals whose name will be permanently associated with the American Heritage Museum.
As Hunter Chaney, who is director of marketing for the AHM, explained on March 24, while giving a visitor a guided tour of the more than 65,000-square-foot building, the Museum came into being only after the Collings Foundation was selected to receive “The Jacques M. Littlefield Collection” in 2013.
Mr. Littlefield, from the San Jose area of California, had “amassed the largest privately held collection of tanks and military equipment” in existence, Mr. Chaney said. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. “In 2013, his foundation and family chose us to get the collection, which consisted of two hundred forty tanks and armored vehicles. Duplicates and extras were auctioned off. We received the rest. The proceeds from the sale went toward funding this museum.”
The American Heritage Museum sits at the terminus of a long and winding road off Main St. (MA 62) on the Hudson/Stow town line, in a pastoral setting that seems incongruous with such displays as the “WWI Trench Experience,” “Clash of Steel” and “War on Terror.” Mr. Chaney said the museum began as “living history events, ice skating festivals, sleigh rides and classic car rallies” but is now “actually three museums” with a hangar and a classic car barn—and there is “a 2200-foot airstrip in back.”
The Collings Foundation was started in 1979 by Bob and Caroline Collings, who still live “on the other end of the property,” Mr. Chaney said. Their son, Rob, is now executive director of the Foundation.
As the Collings family notes in a brochure, the AHM was designed “to fully engage people in understanding our turbulent past. In this remarkable place, American history will be explored, studied and, most of all, remembered. Through educational interpretation and a chronologically arranged series of dioramas and exhibits, the AHM brings the history of our veterans to life.”
Unfortunately, Nathan Hall, driver of the M1A1 Abrams “White 2” tank in Iraq, is, like Mr. Littlefield, no longer with us. Mr. Hall died from a blood clot during his battle with leukemia on March 2. But before his passing Mr. Hall was able to see the restored M1A1 again, on the floor of the AHM—and to lend a poignant element to that moment.
The tank was on patrol near Falluja on August 3, 2006 when an IED blew up. Shrapnel damaged the tank and killed its highly respected commander, Sgt. George Ulloa Jr. The American Heritage Museum received the Abrams tank on a long-term loan from the Marine Corps Museum, tracked down the surviving crew and invited the crew and Sgt. Ulloa’s widow Maria Ulloa to Stow, where a heart-wrenching video of their ordeal was recorded in front of the Abrams.
It was during this visit that Nathan Hall mentioned to Bob Collings that “something was missing.” When he and his crew were assigned to the tank, he pointed out, he christened it with the name ”SPAWN” on the barrel with colored pens. In a Facebook post announcing Nathan Hall’s death, the AHM said Mr. Collings responded “you put it on the first time, there is no one more qualified to put it on again!”
Returning two weeks later with his wife and young daughter, Nathan stayed late into the night and with Rob Collings looking on, he recreated the artwork with Sharpies.
Both Nathan and Nick Johns (“White 2” loader) came to the grand opening of the museum in May of 2019. “Nathan was so excited that he could not sleep,” the AHM said on Facebook. “He told us the flight was delayed and he was crawling out of his skin just to get here…such a change from the tough Marine who was full of pain and tears on his first visit. Other veterans have told us of the therapeutic nature of the AHM, but it has never been so apparent to us as with Nathan. Unfortunately, that was the last visit Nathan had to the AHM as [his] health struggles started shortly after that.”
Mr. Chaney said a memorial for Nathan Hall will be held in August “with family and crew” present.
Its activities curtailed by the pandemic, the American Heritage Museum is “chafing at the bit” to return to its regular programming, which involves a host of events for adults and children alike. Recently, for instance, the museum sponsored “the Ultimate WWII Tank Driving Experience,” a sweepstakes fundraiser with the winner and a guest drawn on March 31. The prize: a chance to drive “the M24 Chaffee, M4 Sherman and ultra-rare M26 Pershing.” The goal of the campaign was to raise $100,000. “We’re at $97,000 and hoping to break $100,000,” Mr. Chaney said.
“Like all museums, the revenue faucet has shut off so this is a great way to raise money,” he said.
A walkthrough of the museum is truly mesmerizing with film and sound effects provided by Boston Productions Inc. Theater 2, the WWI Trench Experience, for example, features sleeping quarters, bombs, vibrations, flashes, barbed wire, pickaxes and helmets. It is an interactive experience.
“This museum as a whole is unique on a global scale,” Mr. Chaney said. “Some of the artifacts are all that are left in the world.”
The American Heritage Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday. For more information, go to AmericanHeritageMuseum.org or call 978-562-9182.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.