Seven Saturdays a year, more than 80,000 people pack into Williams-Brice Stadium
to watch the University of South Carolina Gamecocks play football
. On as many Saturdays as I can manage it, I am one of the throng. Just about every one of those folks attending the game will drive right past the South Carolina Military Museum
(803-806-4440) on National Guard Road without even realizing it.
Tucked away behind the National Guard Armory on Bluff Road, the museum tells the stories of South Carolina military service from Colonial battles with the Spanish and local Indians to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and today’s conflicts.
The exhibits consist of the items both professional and personal that soldiers carried: from their uniforms, weapons and gunpowder sacks to diaries, letters and good luck charms.
Revolutionary War soldiers from South Carolina were known by the crescent-shaped symbols they wore as part of their uniforms. Called a gorget, the symbol was later adapted as part of the state flag. Over the years, the symbol has come to resemble a crescent moon more than the original crescent, which was shaped more like a horseshoe. The museum has a beautiful display with full explanation of the gorget.
Just a few aisles away is a display that shows the digital camera that belonged to a young lieutenant from South Carolina who survived an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
It’s best to tour the museum with a guide. Many of them are veterans themselves and volunteer their time to help visitors understand the items collected there. Tours can easily be arranged in advance of your visit.
My favorite tour guide is also one of the driving forces behind the museum, Buddy Sturgis, a veteran of the Vietnam War. Sturgis can tell you the story of every item in the museum. He personally knows many of the heroes highlighted in the exhibits, and his telling of their stories makes history come alive.
The museum is free and open to the public, though donations are appreciated. A full tour should take about two hours, maybe more depending on how you feel about rifles.
Sturgis said the museum's has one of the largest collections of rifles designed by N.C. native Carbine Williams. For those who haven't seen the movie starring Jimmy Stewart, Williams was a moonshiner serving time in prison after being convicted of killing a deputy. In prison, Williams created the prototype of the M-1 rifle used by U.S. soldiers during World War II.
Another exhibit looks at the life of S.C. native Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who became famous for killing John Dillinger. Purvis also served in the Army during World War II.
The South Carolina Military Museum is open 10-4 Monday-Saturday and closed on Sunday, federal holidays and on those seven Saturdays when the University of South Carolina plays home football games.
The museum has plenty to keep kids interested, but is best enjoyed by youngsters older than 6.