Great Falls boasts 10 amazing museums that vary in purpose, size, and mission. These museums are part of what makes Great Falls Montana’s Basecamp for Art & Adventure. In honor of Veteran’s Day, the Great Falls Montana Tourism team is proud to highlight what visitors will find at the Malmstrom Museum.
Malmstrom Air Force Base was established in 1942 during World War II. Great Falls was the training ground for the Berlin Airlift humanitarian effort at the end of World War II. Nearly 8,000 aircraft flew between Great Falls and Fairbanks to deliver air equipment and supplies to the Soviet Union between 1942-45. The base continues to be a strategic national defense location with Minuteman III ICBMs and a stationed combat engineering squadron for military and humanitarian operations worldwide.
When the Berlin Airlift Veterans held their reunion in Great Falls, they toured the museum. Association president Chuck Childs shared his stories from the mission. Childs flew B17s (known as ‘the flying fortress’) during WWII and came to Great Falls for training. “Our training was really tough, and everything we did was precise.” While at the museum, Childs shared the following story; “When I landed in Berlin and stepped out of the cockpit, a large German was standing there. He was covered in coal, of which Allies delivered 4 million pounds during the operation. The German man extended his hand. For a long time, he was my enemy, but I shook his hand, and the man thanked me for bringing cargo to Berlin. I knew why I was there, and I’m very proud of the fact that I was a pilot in the Berlin Airlift.”
On a typical day, the Malmstrom museum is abuzz with activity; parents browsing the displays with their young children, a retired military couple reminiscing while looking at vintage uniforms, and an Airman taking her family on a tour to highlight her role in one of Malmstrom’s missions. At the heart of this activity, museum director Robert Turnbow takes the time to visit with as many guests as he can. One of the museum’s most famous visitors was Al Roker when he toured the base as part of the Access Granted series from the Today show.
The Malmstrom Museum includes both an outdoor park and indoor displays. The outdoor Air Park displays aircraft and ground transportation including aircraft from the World War II and the Vietnam era, an ICBM with a transporter erector vehicle, a radar van, and vintage military vehicles. Inside the museum is the largest collection of model military aircraft displays in the Northwest and a reconstruction of World War II barracks. Other parts of the museum include uniforms, a section of a module from an early Minuteman launch control center, a cutaway of a Minuteman silo, and several displays that preserve the history and heritage of the base.Every object on display is vital to telling a story and preserving the legacy of the base, and hearing first-hand accounts from veterans adds to the narrative and history of the museum. However, the museum is not just for veterans; the public is always welcome and when you go, you might meet a visitor from halfway around the world! Family members of Airmen, people on vacation, and Canadian visitors enjoy the museum, which is open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm. When you go, allow sufficient time (at least 30 minutes) and plan accordingly to enjoy all the museum has to offer.The Malmstrom museum celebrates the first military mission in the area by displaying uniforms used by the Corps of Discovery, and when Great Falls Montana Tourism Executive Director Rebecca Engum toured the Museum, she was impressed with the display of uniforms that span the Lewis and Clark expedition to current uniforms worn by active duty Airmen. Great Falls proudly celebrates its history and heritage, and this pride is fully on display at the Malmstrom Museum!Since the museum is located inside Malmstrom AFB, you’ll need to contact the museum at 406-731-2705 for access. Non-military members wanting to visit the museum should inquire at the Visitor Center located at the 2nd Avenue North gate.