Veterans Memorial Museum in Branson celebrates grand opening

The dreams and vision of a rural Nebraska man were realized this week with the grand opening of the Veterans Memorial Museum in the town of Branson, Missouri. The Veterans Task Force is calling this one of the “greatest tributes ever completed for the Veterans of the Twentieth Century.” The hallmark of the museum is the world’s largest war memorial sculpture created by internationally known sculptor, Fred Hoppe.

Fred Hoppe (Hop’-ee) of Malcolm, Nebraska used five tons of clay to sculpt one of the world’s largest sculptures, a 70-foot long, 15 ton bronze sculpture, consisting of 50 life-size soldiers storming a beach. Each figure is modeled after an actual combat veteran, one from each of the fifty states. Hoppe donated the sculpture (valued at 3 million dollars) to the Museum.

Hoppe literally took things into his own hands after being turned down by over 36 foundations when trying to get funds to honor the country’s veterans. Besides designing the Veterans Memorial Museum and participating in its construction, he cut up 70 tons of logs in a homemade sawmill in his backyard to cut costs on the siding and lumber used in the museum’s 18,000 square foot building. He also collected and wrote the scripts for over 2000 rare military artifacts he donated to the Museum.

The main hall of the museum has over 150 feet of walls covered with the names of over 400,000 men and women killed in action during World War II. This is the only place in the world where a complete list of these names has ever been displayed. The other five halls in the museum honor veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and other conflicts, and includes a list of all those killed in the line of duty in all other engagements of the 20th Century (except for WWI).

Museum experts claimed the sculpture, building, and exhibits would require a minimum of five to six years to complete. With World War II veterans and Korean veterans dying off at a rate of over 1,000 per day, Hoppe lived up to his pledge to complete the project in just ten months. Discouraged by the lack of memorials to honor the veterans of this country, Hoppe mortgaged his home and personal property to raise additional funds for the project.

Hoppe was inspired by the stories and sacrifices he heard about from his father (Fred Sr.) and the men that fought alongside his father during World War II. Hoppe said, “My father was so crippled up from being wounded four times, that he couldn’t even play catch with me when I was a kid.” Hoppe didn’t learn that his father was one of the countries most decorated combat veterans until shortly before his father’s death in 1994. When Hoppe asked his father why he had never told the family that he was a hero, his father replied, “I’m no hero, the real heroes never came home.”

The Veterans Memorial Museum is located at 1250 West 76 Country Music Boulevard in Branson, Missouri. A full-size WWII P-51 Mustang Fighter Plane landmarks this national tribute to our veterans. Hoppe adds, “I wanted to honor these men and women who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today. I just want the American public to be as proud of our veterans as I am.”

Veterans, special visitors, local residents, and honored dignitaries gathered to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Veterans Memorial Museum in Branson, Missouri. Opening ceremonies included the presentation of the Colors of the United States by the Tri-Lakes Color Guard. Retired Brigadier General Carl Oscar Johnson acted as Master of Ceremonies and Retired General Charles Honore was the featured speaker. Judge Robert A. Decatur, Retired Tuskegee Airman, led guests in the Pledge of Allegiance and Chaplain Lamar Hunt, Colonel, Retired, U.S. Army, conducted the invocation. Entertainment included Miss Nedra Culp, Branson’s Two-Time Female Vocalist of the Year, from the “50’s At The Hop” show singing the National Anthem; and the Lennon Brothers (Joe, Bill, & Dan) with Bill’s wife Gail from the Lennon Brothers Swing Music Show singing “On A Wing & A Prayer”.

Owner Fred Hoppe also welcomed guests and spoke about his desire to honor our veterans and educate the public with the Veterans Memorial Museum. Honored guests were introduced and the ceremony concluded with a special ribbon cutting by the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB.

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