Owner Warren Motts turned a hobby into a military memorial that covers the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War.
By CATHY SECKMAN
GROVEPORT, Ohio -- "Freedom isn't free," says Columbus-area museum owner Warren Motts. He has found a way to count the cost and honor the givers at Motts Military Museum in Groveport, a sprawling memorial to American patriotism.
Founded in 1988, the museum is a tax-exempt educational organization that presents military history from the Revolutionary War to Desert Storm.
Motts, an Army and Ohio National Guard veteran, was originally a commercial advertising photographer with an interest in Civil War history. He decided to give something back to his profession by developing a photographic recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg. That hobby eventually became a multi-media slide show that he presented for the Professional Photographers of America International in Washington, D.C., during the 1976 Bicentennial.
Basement beginnings: While assembling the show, Motts became more interested in Civil War history. Other veterans began donating war memorabilia to him, and he turned his basement into a museum.
"My home was built in 1870, so it was very appropriate. I had ultraviolet light, temperature and humidity controls. It was a good setup, but we outgrew it totally. In 1999 the present building and four acres were donated."
Working with a crew of 18 volunteers, mostly veterans, Motts did the renovations on a shoestring budget. "They worked here two years for free. All I had to do was raise money for materials."
The new building is handicapped-accessible and big enough to hold school and group programs. In just two years, Motts has outgrown it, also. An addition is in the works this summer, and will house war memorabilia from Korea to Desert Storm.
Much of the new exhibit will be devoted to Vietnam, and will include memorabilia donated by Boardman resident Joe Sepesy. Motts recently acquired a Huey combat assault helicopter Sepesy flew in Vietnam. The original section will hold items used from the Revolutionary War through World War II.
Motts believes in personalizing his memorabilia as much as possible. He not only has a Civil War Colt revolver on display, he knows who carried it -- an ancestor of Korean War POW Carl Cossin. The World War II combat boots were on the feet of former U.S. Congressman Chalmers P. Wylie when he received the Silver Star for bravery as a combat medic.
Schwarzenegger link: One of the tanks behind the museum, believe it or not, was driven by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger when he served in the Austrian Army in the 1960s. The M47 was built for the U.S. military in the Korean War, and later sold to Austria. After he became famous, Schwarzenegger bought the tank from the Austrian Army and displayed it in a Planet Hollywood restaurant. When he sold his interest in the restaurants, the tank found a home at Motts'.
The World War section includes memorabilia from Ohio natives Eddie Rickenbacker and Paul Tibbets. Other notables whose personal items are on display include World War II nurse Sallie Farmer, Vietnam nurse Sharon Lane, Tuskegee Airman Capt. Harold Sawyer, and Challenger astronaut Ellison Onizuka.
It's possible to spend a full day at the museum and not see everything. Depending on the depth of your interest in military history, you might never come home. Even if your interest is casual, though, there's plenty to see.