Meet Mr. Thomas Collins. He is the curator and owner of The Forgotten Warriors Museum. A Vietnam Veteran, he was a door gunner on a Huey helicopter. It was rumored that the life expectancy of a gunner was only five minutes. He was able to survive at this gunner position for the duration of 13 months. He is hardcore. Collins was wounded in 4 helicopter crashes during his service. And most frightening of all, he was drafted.
He served as a Police Officer in New Jersey for over 23 years. Has a beautiful wife, Theresa and handsome son. Mr. Collins first got his start in 2004. He was working for a museum and Vets would give artifacts. However, this museum did not have anything Vietnam related. Former Vets would bring in their things and give to Tom for safe-keeping. Perhaps one day, it would be used for something. Collins amounted a somewhat large collection. He purchased a mobile trailer. The collection would tour all over the country to showcase his treasures. He did not earn one dime. His hobby turned into a full-fledge operation. More Vietnam pieces were being donated as time moved forward. Mr. Collins inquired about the land across the street from the Aviation Museum.
The county allows Tom and his family to lease the land for only $1 a year. He needed to set up shop so he looked into a trailer. A trailer park donated one free of charge. It was old and needed a lot of work. It was completely gutted and refurbished. His menagerie was showcased in the trailer until they were able to collect enough donations to build a permanent home. Volunteers came together to build the building. Fifty display cases were donated from local businesses in Cape May County. Some weren't in working order and fixed either by Tom's son (an electrician) or other volunteers. All of this became possible because of the generosity of the people of South Jersey. He does not receive any funds from the state. It is strictly donations. I always encourage people to leave a donation if they can. Tom does not charge anything to see this beauty (and she is). He feels that the Forgotten Warriors Museum is a healing place for all the Veterans. A refuge.
In 2008, they had their grand opening and haven't looked back. The Forgotten Warriors Museum not only holds Vietnam items, but honors Korean vets and there is a section dedicated to the nurses that perished. It is hard not to get teary-eyed. No on in the country has a museum such as this. What was most astonishing was the Memorial Room. It is a small room containing ashes of two Vets. One Vet named, Bruce Belton. Belton's daughter had visited the museum in 2004. He had wanted his ashes scattered off the shore of NJ. However, it is illegal to do so in the state. She felt that he should be honored here. He is. A woman's remains are also here. Her name is Ginger Sherry. She toured with Bob Hope and the USO tours of Korea. An entertainer and a knock-out. Her ashes were found in the top of the closet and were going to be thrown away. The original box was disintegrating so they put her in an alcohol container. Her favorite liquor. Both Ginger and Bruce are honored with pictures, belongings, and artifacts. They also have a dedicated section to the Viet Cong. Items and dolls sent back to families and wives from Vietnam. Rations our soldiers were given. A plaque honoring Tom's troop that have perished. Plus, many more. Just too much to mention.
The Vets that come in have a sense of relief. Some walk through the doors and break down. No one honors these guys, but Tom. We have the memorial in Washington DC, but it isn't the same. Mr.Collins honors the Vets who are living and those that lost their lives. It has become such a passion of his that his family does miss spending time with him. He is there everyday to keep an eye on things, but his family understands. They see the people who walk through the doors and the solace they experience. They feel that Collins' efforts are justified.
They don't do any fundraising. There is no website. Volunteers are always welcomed. The Forgotten Warriors should never be overlooked. They deserve their place in the history books. Tom Collins sure does one hell of a job on behalf of these Veterans. School trips are always invited. The museum will also travel to the school for a showing. They only ask that you pay for fuel. Make sure you go out to support this gem in our backyard. Admission is free, but please give. I am honored to have visited this remarkable place. Plus, humbled that this is here in South Jersey.
The Forgotten Warriors Museum Forrestral Road Rio Grande, NJ (Across from the Aviation Museum) Hours: Summer 10-4 Mon-Sun Admission is free from October to Spring Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
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