VEHICLE MUSEUM Owner works to restore WWII artifacts
A new display item is a landing craft like those used on D-day.
HUBBARD -- As each year passes and a new one begins, the mission of the World War II Vehicle Museum hits home even more.
"We can't preserve the veterans, but we can preserve their tools and keep their stories alive," said Henry Venetta, a Hubbard contractor who owns the museum, which he started in 1998.
The 46,000-square-foot building on state Route 304 (5959 W. Liberty St.) houses more than 60 vehicles, from trucks and trailers to tanks -- all of which work -- in two gymnasium-sized display halls.
But the museum also contains a variety of World War II memorabilia. Display cases hold caps, uniforms, ration cards, canteens, soldiers' field rations, and lots of photographs and contemporary magazine advertisements.
Two new items are on display. One is a Higgins boat, still in the process of being restored. It's a wooden landing craft of the kind featured in the opening scene of the movie "Saving Private Ryan," depicting the D-day landing on Normandy's Omaha Beach. Venetta found it in a back yard in Port Clinton, Ohio. The other is a submarine engine that Venetta found in the Cleveland area.
"A company bought it to use in a tugboat, but they couldn't get it to work," Venetta said.
The two items are typical examples of how Venetta finds forgotten or discarded items, using his own funds to buy and restore pieces whose cost can top $100,000.
"I do it for the fun of it," he said. "It's a network of collectors and you meet people and find others. I've found things in Europe, in junkyards and in people's back yards."
Everything is restored to working condition, a process that can take up to three years in some cases.
"There aren't a lot of empty shells or monuments," museum curator Joe Plaisted said. "Everything is in working condition."
The living history approach will be demonstrated this summer with the museum's fourth annual Military Vehicle Rally. It will take place at the museum July 22-23.
Events will include a vehicle show, a swap meet for collectors and re-enactments of World War II battles, which Plaisted said is the fastest growing area of historical re-enactment. (Live guns and ammunition won't be allowed at any of the events.)
Venetta said that the museum hosted about 4,000 visitors last year, from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
Museum curator Joe Plaisted said he would like more local people to come see what the museum has to offer.
"This is a place that a lot of local people say they've been meaning to come see but don't get around to," he said.
"It's just like people who live in Canton who never get to the [Pro] Football Hall of Fame. This is an underused resource, and people in the area ought to take more advantage."