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hawthorne ordnance museum

I had never heard the word “ordnance” before. “It’s bullets and bombs and weapons,” explained Ralph, a former (is one ever former?) Marine. “Anything you shoot or that blows up.” 

Well, then, if you like blowing things up you’ll positively salivate in the Ordnance Museum in the all things military town of Hawthorne, Nevada.

Developed fifteen years ago by a group of World War II veterans, the museum occupies the building that housed an old Chevrolet dealership back in the 1950’s. The vast collection includes not only items from the nearby Hawthorne Army Ammunition Storage Depot—a giant, multi-service operation—but donations from Annapolis and elsewhere. The fan favorite, a “Snoopy” Gyrodyne reconnaissance drone (an unmanned helicopter used in the Vietnam War), came from San Diego. Not sure if it flew to Nevada on its own; I should have asked. The Snoopy is displayed with “the computer that operated it and the joystick that navigated it,” said the friendly female docent.

“We have lots of unique items here,” she continued. “We’ve donated several nuclear bombs to the Smithsonian.” “Really?” I said, edging away from what I thought she was talking about. “Oh, this blue one? No, this is a torpedo,” she explained. “The bombs are in the back.”  

I think you’re getting the picture. They have a groovy old mine that looks like a cartoon time bomb. There’s a rack of weapons—rifles or tommy guns or whatever they’re called—that you can actually pick up and horse around with. The rafters are hung with flags and memorabilia and display cases hold military-issue placesettings and bullets and a thousand other items I don’t know the names of.

“For a private museum, it’s quite unusual,” said Ralph, who has dragged me to every fort and military archive and historically significant site during our travels both domestic and abroad. “Others are usually pretty crappy, and have maybe an eighth of the stuff that these guys have in here.” So, high praise indeed. 

The whole town caters to the military, and if you’ve got a hawk in your family, a visit to Hawthorne would be a real treat. (Leave your conscientious objectors at home.) The museum sits across the street from the USO, and from the looks of it every day is Armed Forces Day over at Joe’s Tavern. From the road outside of town you can see the storage sheds and Navy Warfare Center and the bunkers that shielded personnel from the results of ordnance testing and calibration (i.e. risky explosions). Even the children’s playground equipment is made from naval turret guns, and fanciful windmills made out of decommissioned bombs adorn the park.

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