The Montana National Guard has always collected its history but no organized system of collections was instituted until 1980 when the members of the 103rd Public Information Detachment, later to become the 103rd Public Affairs Detachment, beginning reviewing items that had been donated by various Montana veterans to the Montana National Guard. Much of this was housed in the State Headquarters for the Montana National Guard located in the Arsenal Building, 110 North Main, Helena, Montana, and to a lesser degree in various location throughout the State at Armory sites and at Fort William Henry Harrison, the Montana National Guard's major training site located just west of Helena.
In 1976 the first history of the Montana National Guard was published through the efforts of the Public Affairs Detachment. That history, called the The Montana Militia: A History of Montana's Volunteer Forces, 1867-1976, has served as the backdrop for the Montana Military Museum Collection efforts.
In the Spring of 1980, then 103rd Public Affairs Commander, Brigadier (Captain) Harold “Hal” Stearns directed his unit to establish a History Section and to begin the process of organizing the boxes of artifacts and documents that were in the possession of the Montana National Guard. 103rd personnel instrumental in initiating the effort were SFC Kermit Edmonds, MSG C. Milo McLeod, Sgt Orlin Svingen, and 1st SGT Howard Anderson. Other personnel included Brigadier General Bill Yaeger, Major General John Womack, MG Jim Duffy, MG John E. "Gene" Prendergast, COL Howard McKinney, COL Joseph Upshaw, SGT Fred Naegele, SGM William E. "Pappy" Morrow, Col Ray Read, and others, stepped up to support, assist and contribute. The cast become hundreds if not thousands over the years.
In the Summer of 1984 the 103rd PAD initiated a request based on their experiences at regional and National conferences host by the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Division and it growing History branch. The Request was to establish a Historical Holding Activity within the Montana National Guard under the provisions of Army Regulations 870-20 entitled, Historical Activities, Army Museums, Historical Artifacts and Art and National Guard Regulation and National Guard Regulation 870-20 ARNG Museums, Activities, and Historical Property. The Request moved through the Office of the Adjutant General, who was at that time Major General Jim Duffy on up through National Guard Bureau PA (History) to the U.S. Army Center of Military History and its Museum Division. In November 1984 Montana received formal approval of its request and Montana National Guard Museum Activity now known as the Montana Military Museum programs and collection was born.
The first entry in the Museum Register was done in late 1980. Those items are display today in the Museum. It is estimated that 12,000 plus records of items reside in the Museum. The collection covers the period from the American Revolution to the current military operations, with emphasis on the historical record of Montana's Military from the first the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1804-1806, to current Operations in the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kermit Edmonds, first Curator of Collections, in 1978, stated, “---that the collection of artifacts and information forms the heart of the Museum but the Record of that Collection is the Nervous system. I say that all items great and small need to be collected, conserved, and evaluated as they may be critical to our understanding of events that have had an effect on us in the past and present.”
The Strength of Montana Military Museum Collection has led to the recent publishing the new Montana National Guard History, Splendid Service: A History of the Montana National Guard
from 1867-2006. Though not the final publication on the subject of Montana Military history, it represents a step forward in our process. To be continued.
Prepared by Raymond K. Read, Museum Director/Curator 2020