Tijeras Museum preserves the memories of American military families
Many military museums have a section dedicated to the sacrifices made by service member spouses and children, but until now there has never been a museum that focuses exclusively on these families. Thanks to Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, however, Tijeras boasts the only museum in the country dedicated to the families of U.S. military servicemen and women, the Museum of the American Military Family.
Woessner has been a DOD (Department of Defense) child, and a military spouse and mother, so it’s safe to say that she knows a bit about the subject. “My son was stationed in Iraq in 2010, and I was, like any mom whose child is in a war zone, proud and scared and doing everything I could to be supportive,” she says. “I realized that those emotions are what bind military families to each other; we’re all in this together. I decided to access more information by looking for a museum dedicated to military families, and I discovered that there weren’t any.”
She began thinking about starting one. She talked to her father, Dr. Allen Olson, and he was just as surprised by the lack of a museum as she was. After two years in the Army during the post World War II occupation of Germany, Olson spent his civilian career teaching military children as a Department of Defense educator in Germany. He thought the museum was a great idea.
By 2011 the museum was up and running, albeit without a building. It was more of a virtual project. Before long Woessner and her team were setting up displays and conducting educational sessions at other museums for short periods of time.
In 2016 the physical museum opened next door to Molly’s bar in Tijeras at 546 State Highway 333, located in the house in which Molly and her family used to live. Finally Woessner had a place to display all the artifacts, photos, and letters she’d been acquiring over the years.
“We wanted to set the museum up to depict what military housing really looks and feels like,” Woessner explains. “Molly’s old house is perfect.”
The building is comprised of several rooms, each full of artifacts, photo albums, letters, and myriad memorabilia. Visitors are encouraged to thumb through the photo albums, touch things, read letters and postcards, and simply immerse themselves in the history of military families. One can also read parts of the first anthology the museum has published, From the Frontline to the Homefront—New Mexicans Reflect on War.
The museum is not only a place to explore military family history. Woessner and her board have implemented several projects that reach well beyond the borders of New Mexico. A great example is Operation Footlocker, a mini mobile museum that is a treasure trove of memories donated by Military Families from Overseas Schools. Authentic military footlockers are shipped around the USA to military family functions, schools, and libraries—anywhere people gather who want to learn more about the military family experience. People pour over the contents of the footlocker and put them on display for educational and informative purposes. When the footlockers are shipped back to the museum, they almost always contain additional written histories, artifacts, and photos donated by people who were moved by the contents and the mission of the museum.
Other projects include local meetings, a book club, monthly movies, and even naturalization (citizenship) ceremonies—many people aren’t aware that military members often marry women and men that they meet overseas, i.e., non-US citizens.
The Museum of the American Military Family serves a long overdue function: recognizing and honoring the sacrifices made by children, spouses, parents, and siblings of military men and women. It is well worth a visit, and you might find that you’re inspired to volunteer or donate once you’ve spent a few hours exploring their wealth of memorabilia.
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