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Providing a memorial to materiel

Obsolete vehicles, big guns and other relics of war live on at a military history museum.

May 28, 2007|James Ricci | Times Staff Writer

The guns in the collection, not unlike the men who once used them, are no longer quite the formidable specimens they once were. In accordance with federal law, all have been deactivated, holes cut into their high-pressure chambers, their barrels welded shut at the breeches. Movie special-effects technicians, however, are able to get the pieces to convincingly mimic firing, complete with flame and smoke shooting from the barrels and faux recoiling action.

For many years, veterans volunteered at the museum to work on the equipment, laying hands once again on metal that conjured images of themselves as younger men undergoing the watershed experience of military service.

As the years passed, however, that cohort has tended to "lose interest or move away or die off or get sick," Craig Michelson said.

Nowadays, the 10 active volunteers who assist the museum, which has never solicited money from the public, are no longer of the same vintage as the equipment. Rather, they are younger enthusiasts -- a dentist, a NASA engineer, a salesman -- who can only imagine what it was like to fire the cannons and drive the vehicles on battlefields.

Craig Michelson has never served in the military. Yet, operating these relics gives him at least an inkling of what the soldiers of the past knew firsthand, he said. "I love the equipment, and working on the stuff you get a good feeling of what those guys had to deal with. All except having somebody shooting at you."

The museum, whose telephone number is (626) 442-1776, is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Those interested in volunteering may call, or e-mail

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