DUBOIS, Wyo. — It is the kind of place tourists flock to in Washington, D.C. or New York during the summer months — an expansive, comprehensive museum, covering key aspects of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
The National Museum of Military Vehicles, however, sits on the outskirts of a Wyoming frontier town, roughly 5 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City and 6 1/2 from Denver, with a population just over 800.
Inside the building sits scores of vintage and restored vehicles from the major conflicts, encapsulated in immersive exhibits.
It’s all part of museum founder Dan Starks’ personal collection, and all historic pieces tell their own tales of heroism and valor.
“There’s a lot of meaning here,” Starks told KSL-TV. “To put yourself in the shoes of the people that served in these vehicles — you can’t get that from a book, you can’t get that from a movie.”
Starks, a retired CEO of a Fortune 500 company, said he bought his first tank in 2010.
“I had no idea a civilian could own a tank,” Starks said. “When I got the opportunity to buy this rusted-out relic of a tank, I just jumped on it, thinking, ‘wouldn’t that be something to be able to restore it and drive it in the Dubois Fourth of July parade!'”
Restoring it may have been a “frustrating process,” as Starks described it, but it didn’t stop him from buying his second tank in 2014.
“Once I bought a second tank, I slowly started to buy more,” Starks recalled. “At one point, I had 13 military vehicles. I created a building to house them in that had a capacity of 30 military vehicles. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll never get 30 military vehicles’ and this tank barn will be adequate for the duration of my collecting career.”
As of Sunday, Starks has 475 tanks and military vehicles.
He recently acquired dozens of vehicles from a Utah collector who passed away in October 2020.
“Karl Smith from Salt Lake City was a very good friend of mine. He was absolutely instrumental in helping me create this collection,” Starks said. “He sold to me and helped me understand 150 of these vehicles in my 475-vehicle collection.”
Starks said there were still plans to add to the collection.
“I have as many vehicles as I can imagine wanting, covering World War II and the Korean War,” Starks explained. “I have a good number of vehicles covering the Vietnam War, but I have not been able to access a number of more modern American ground combat vehicles, and that’s where the expansion of my collection will come from here in the future.”
Starks recently opened a Korean War and Vietnam section, with audio and visual displays, and recorded first-hand accounts of veterans.
“We wanted people to feel it in their bones to the extent we could make that possible,” Starks said.
Though he has poured more than $100 million of his personal fortune into the collection, Starks said the enterprise hasn’t been about the value or even collecting — but instead, he sees a benefit in the stories and lessons the vehicles share.
He ultimately hopes visitors to the museum will gain a greater appreciation for military service.
“It’s a level of appreciation that I think people are surprised to feel when they come through this museum,” Starks said. “I hope that people really learn a little bit more about what did it take to create the country that we have and what do we need to continue to do to keep this country moving forward.”
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