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Learn the Stories of Veterans at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, OH

In Columbus, the only museum in the country dedicated to telling veterans' stories is an inspiring place to spend a day.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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Over 40 million men and women have served in the United States military. Almost every branch of service has a dedicated museum for telling the story of service and sacrifice but never before had there been a single museum dedicated to all the branches. The National Veterans Memorial and Museum was founded on the single premise to tell all American veterans’ countless stories.

During my three-day visit to Columbus – Ohio’s capital city – I had many places I wanted to explore. Local art and history museums, niche neighborhoods, and public parks filled my itinerary. But the one destination I would the most excited to visit was the museum dedicated to all military veterans.

My dad and grandad, on my mother’s side, both served in the United States Army. My dad proudly talks of his work with the Army Security Agency, an early version of the National Security Agency. My grandmother still has a photo of my grandfather in his uniform, hanging on her wall.

Visiting the National Veterans Memorial and Museum was more than just a stop on a whirlwind road trip across Ohio. It was a destination where I wanted to learn more stories of veterans. During my three hours at the museum, I discovered a few new veterans, heard dozens of amazing stories, and explored the interesting architecture.

The timeline of the National Veterans Museum begins with the Revolutionary War.

National Veterans Memorial and Museum

The idea for the National Veterans and Memorial Museum came from local billionaire and philanthropist Leslie H. Wexner. With a strong disdain for the previous Franklin County Veterans Memorial, Wexner approached the notion of building a new veterans memorial for the county on the same site.

But the idea quickly picked up momentum. Wexner asked former astronaut and senator John Glenn to join the project. The Ohio governor soon became involved, who asked the idea to be expanded to cover all veterans in the state. After the two senators from Ohio became involved, the idea was expanded even further. On June 21, 2018, President Donald Trump signed a law that designated the site as the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, adding a level of legitimacy to the project.

Today, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum tells the story of veterans from all branches of military service. Interviews and press clips play in the halls of the architecturally mesmerizing building. Everything from taking the oath, serving in combat, and life after service is told through interpretive panels. Outside, the Memorial Grove is a wonderful walk with a view of downtown Columbus across the river, and the view from Rooftop Sanctuary cannot be topped.

300 West Broad Street, Columbus, OH | 614-362-2800 | https://nationalvmm.org

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While the timeline of America’s military wraps around the interior of the building, the outside is lined with veterans’ stories.

Veterans Museum

One of my favorite features at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum was the timeline wrapped around the building’s center. It began with the American Revolution from 1775-1783. The timeline played out the history of wars and conflicts and the history of military branches of service.

The timeline was the unifying theme throughout the museum, connecting various clusters. Stories of veterans explaining why they chose to serve, fond memories of combat duty assignments, and life after service played on television screens and interactive displays. Statistics about military service complimented the stories to create a complete picture for visitors to the museum.

Every once in awhile, I came across a bench. More than just offering a place to take a load off your feet, it was also meant to give you a chance to watch veterans’ stories. The quality of the videos was top-notch, and the stories downright inspirational.

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Inside the Rooftop Sanctuary, a place to sit and enjoy the patterns of colors representing the patterns of campaign medals.

Rooftop Sanctuary

The Rooftop Sanctuary was the most surprising feature of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. Inside, a couple of benches offer a chance to sit in a peaceful location away from the museum. But outside, the circular open rooftop allows an opportunity to get a breath of fresh air and enjoy the Columbus skyline across the Scioto River.

I learned something at the Rooftop Sanctuary. The campaign medals and ribbons servicemen and women wear on their uniforms have a multicolored pattern; that pattern is not random. Each military campaign is assigned a particular pattern of colorful stripes. The glass wall of the Rooftop Sanctuary mimics these patterns with stripes of colorful glass.

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Memorial Grove

Directly beside the museum building, the Memorial Grove is a small park dedicated to quiet contemplation of the stories learned inside. A concrete path winds through the park with a water feature surrounding a portion along the river. It’s a great way to end a day exploring the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.

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Architecture

I found the National Veterans Memorial and Museum to be an architecturally mesmerizing experience. Approaching from the parking lot, I could not see any corners on the building’s exterior, something which I rarely saw on the inside. The designers, Allied Works Architecture, wanted to create a minimalist museum inspired by nature. They succeeded.

Walking through the museum follows the path of concentric circles. The timeline hung on the inner core of the building with exhibit spaces on the outer wall. The curved path made the museum feel much larger on the inside; the museum is only 300’ in diameter.

The result was an architectural design that made me feel at peace while exploring the history of military service and stories of veterans.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

How Much Time Will You Spend at the Museum?

Like most museums, the amount of time you spend at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum depends entirely on how much time you spend reading. It will take a minimum of an hour to do nothing more than walk through the multiple levels and give the interpretive panels a cursory read through.

But I recommend planning to spend 2-3 hours at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. There are benches to take a break from walking and watch interviews. Visitors can leave the museum, take a stroll around the Memorial Grove or Rooftop Sanctuary, and return later to finish the museum.

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Getting There

Fortunately, getting to the National Veterans Memorial and Museum could not be easier. The Veterans Memorial Lot is located beside the museum and offers plenty of parking for museum visitors. The museum staff will validate the parking ticket, giving you a discounted rate when you leave the parking lot later.

Although it’s ridiculously easy to drive to the museum, it would also be quite exciting to walk. The Discovery Bridge offers pedestrian access across the Scioto River from downtown Columbus. On both sides of the river, a series of concrete paths meander along the river, part of the city’s greenway system.

2 Responses

  1. My husband Edd Vanderpool
    ( HeavyHeavy ) a nickname given to him in Vietnam, he was a M-60 Machine Gunner, 1967-68. His 1st Cavalry, 7th of the 1st will be holding their reunion here in Grove City starting June 19 – 22. We are planning on bringing them to visit The National Veterans Museum and Memorial. I hope Heavy can make it due to pulmonary disease.

    1. Robin, thank you for this story. And please tell Heavy thanks for serving our country. I hope he can make it to this museum. It was an incredible experience. Please be sure to take him upstairs to the rooftop terrace.

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