To say Bim Wheeler ’58 enjoys collecting war memorabilia is an understatement. He began collecting items at 8 years old when he came across a civil war carbine in his grandparent’s attic. Today, he has several thousand pieces, which is enough to house a museum—literally. That’s right! Bim, with the help of his sons, has turned his extensive, personal collection into a public museum. He serves as the curator of their family-owned and operated, “The Hall of Heroes Museum,” which celebrates the anniversaries of the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, and also contains material from all of the U.S. wars. The museum is home to several rare pieces, like the only provenanced M1941 Johnson rifle carried as a test in combat on Guadalcanal and the Colt M1911 A1 pistol carried by a United States Marine Corps Colonel at Iwo Jima when he won the Navy Cross. Located in Edgewood, Md., the exhibit is housed within the company his sons built and operate, Veteran Corps of America, where 95 percent of their employees are disabled veterans.
“The museum is the first time I ever attempted such a thing,” said Bim about the five-year-old venture. “It has been a real learning exercise. First, you have to learn how to display items with a relatively limited space. Lots of the displays were redesigned more than once. Thank God for the Internet! For example, how do you put a parachute on a mannequin that is part of a D-Day exhibit? Where were swords, bayonets, and knives worn on uniforms for different wars? A tremendous amount of research was required to get it right—hours and hours.”
Bim has created a number of models for specific incidents on display in the museum, including trains in the Civil War, the Military Telegraph Service, and the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne loading for the D-Day jump.
It’s a natural fit that Bim would collect war memorabilia. His father was career military serving in the Army. Bim followed his father’s footsteps by serving three years on active duty and six years in the Ready Reserve for the Army. He finished his career with the rank Master Sergeant. His eldest son was a captain in the Air Force and is a disabled veteran. “My sons have chosen to honor their grandfather by naming this museum, a training center, and other facilities after him,” said Bim.
Bim is excited to be working on a website for the museum and is making a video about the museum, its offerings, and the historical significance of the exhibits. “We have ambitious plans for the future,” said Bim. “We want to promote military service by educating the public about the importance of the military in our history and the leaders who built our country.”