Known as civilians in peace and soldiers in war, members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are dedicated to serving their local communities and country. 

The role they have played is told through the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum at Fort Indiantown Gap.

The museum, founded in 1986, is a collection of the historic materials of the Pennsylvania Army, Air National Guard, and Fort Indiantown Gap. Located on two floors of a World War II-era barracks, the museum exists to honor those men and women from around the Keystone State who have served at any Pennsylvania-based guard unit.

“Our focus is on the Pennsylvania National Guard, Army National Guard, Air National Guard and a special focus on the 28th Infantry Division,” said museum curator Charles Oellig, who was a member of a small group of individuals who started it while he was employed at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. “There are also the non-divisional units of the guard, too.”

The 28th Infantry Division is one of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s major commands, and it’s also the oldest division in the entire army dating back to 1879.

“We worked closely with Col. Joseph Holt and got permission to go anywhere on post to look for things to put in here to start. The State Museum put the first items in here: the gatling gun, the cannon and a number of other things,” said the 88-year-old Oellig, who served six years in the Pennsylvania National Guard. 

Members of the Local Defense Group on a tour of the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum led by volunteer Tom Small (center) who worked for the military for 40 years. Here, Small describes a US 75-mm M-1 A-1 pack howitzer that noted for its ease in transporation via mule or air transport. (James Mentzer)

The museum displays thousands of military items, including uniforms, regalia, weapons and war artifacts beginning with the Civil War through the recent past.

The Pennsylvania Army National Guard traces its roots to 1747, when Ben Franklin created the Associators in Philadelphia. Since then, National Guard members have seen combat in all major U.S. wars and have been activated in response to state, national and international emergencies. 

LebTown asked if the museum still receives donations from the men and women who served.

“All the time, all the time,” answered Oellig. “This man brought this trophy up from North Carolina to donate it to us. He had bought it at an estate sale out near Pittsburgh years and years ago. It was dated 1928 and 1929 and it was for the 196th Field Artillery from Pittsburgh.”

Most of the medical items that are shown in this dispensary were used during World War II and the Korean War by Pennsylvania National Guard members. This scene is depicted at the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum at Fort Indiantown Gap. (James Mentzer)

The museum contains artifacts as small as dog tags to as large as a cannon, the latter item located in a grassy area just outside the building. In addition to the gatling gun, other display highlights include a WWII mounted cavalry soldier, five Jeeps dating from 1945 to 1970, swords, and an array of rifles.

A second adjacent barrack, which is used for storing donated items, may be opened in the future to display those and other artifacts.

“We have over 200 uniforms over there in storage,” said Oellig. “If we had the space, we could do a nice display of generals’ uniforms. I believe the Air Guard would like to see that building honor the Air Guard. We only have just a small space upstairs dedicated to the Air Guard, but we have enough items that we could fill that (building) for the Air Guard.”

A sergeant’s or cadre room as it may have looked in 1941. The World War I field desk shown here by the first sergeant was used during World War II too. This scene is one of many that depicts life for Pennsylvania National Guard members at the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum at Fort Indiantown Gap. (James Mentzer)

Next to the two barracks that serve as the museum and storage space is a restored Our Lady of Victory Chapel, built in 1891, and Victorian Range House constructed in 1890. 

The chapel sat elsewhere at FTIG and was relocated adjacent to the museum while the range house was moved from Mount Gretna years after the military had outgrown the space it had there and relocated to northern Lebanon County in the 1930s.

In 1931, authorization was made to acquire land in Lebanon and Dauphin counties when the Pennsylvania National Guard outgrew its 120-acre training site at Mount Gretna, known as Soldiers Field, according to museum tour guide Tom Small, who has an encyclopedia-like knowledge of the guard’s history.

After moving to its current location, the military installation was leased to the U.S. Army leading up to the start of World War II. It remained a federal installation until 1998 when the army released control of the installation to Pennsylvania. Today, FTIG serves as headquarters for the Pennsylvania National Guard and Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. 

Small, a Lebanon native, served his country for 40 years, including nine of active duty and 30-plus with the guard on a full-time basis. Small led a museum tour for members of the Local Defense Group following its May meeting at FTIG. 

Pennsylvania National Guard Museum curator Charles Oellig, left, and volunteer and Lebanon County native Tom Small at the A.J. Drexel Biddle display, a favorite of Oellig’s. The Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum is open Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and by special appointment for those who served in the military and school groups. (James Mentzer)

Following the tour, Small and Oellig said it is difficult to select their favorite part of the museum – although both gave an answer when pressed. (Although not currently on display since it is being refurbished, Small noted the Willys M38 4×4, 2-ton pickup truck is his personal favorite item possessed by the museum.) 

“It’s tough,” said Small. “Every piece has a history of its own and I like history in general, so it’s tough to pick out one piece.”

Oellig said the three display cases highlighting former FTIG Adjutant General Anthony J. Biddle is what he feels is the highlight of the tour for him.

“He was on the cover of Life magazine, and was our adjutant general from 1955 to 1961,” said Oellig. “He had been an ambassador to more countries than anybody in America’s history. The Biddle family goes back to the Mayflower in American history.”

Other static displays include planes, memorials and tanks located at various locations around FTIG – although there is a future plan to move the five tanks parked in front of the airfield to land at the museum.

“The post wants to change the intersection down by the club and move all of the tanks displayed there up to here, so there is a long-term plan from the (museum) association to make a half-mile walkway back in this area (behind and around the museum),” said Small. “It could be a 5-year plan or a 10-year plan, we have no idea how long it might take.”

The museum also features several WWII-specific displays including a field hospital and barracks rooms, and a German assault rifle that was pierced by a 28th Infantry Division round at the Battle of the Bugle – one of the largest and bloodiest single battles waged during World War II and the third-deadliest campaign in the history of the United States. 

A military mess is one of thousands of items on display at the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum at Fort Indiantown Gap. (James Mentzer)

A long section of the upstairs features a chow line and military mess.

When touring the museum, one gets an appreciation for how residents of this state have answered the call to serve their nation.

“People came to America to be non-repressed and when they see oppression, they want to stand up against it,” answers Small when asked why Pennsylvanians are quick to answer the call to serve.    

If You Go

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, and is free to the public with donations requested. Groups can also visit the museum by appointment by calling the museum at 717-861-2402. More information on the museum can be found by visiting its Facebook page at Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum or

Visitors are subject to a brief police background check prior to entrance. Visitors with an active or retired military ID can access the post by scanning their ID at the checkpoint.

Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication to clarify that the 28th Infantry Division is one of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s major commands and to correct the title of a former FTIG official.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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