Petaluma is known for authenticity. You don’t have to look any further than our iron front buildings. Constructed in the late 1800s, Petaluma’s architecture isn’t plaster façades slapped onto 20th century reproductions. And community celebrations such as Butter & Egg Days and Rivertown Revival honor our genuine agriculture heritage and river history.
What’s another impressive example of authenticity in Petaluma? Military Antiques and Museum at 300 Petaluma Blvd.N. The store has an inventory of more than 10,000 items representing military history starting with the Civil War through World War II, the Korean War, and into more recent conflicts – all of them the real deal and not reproductions.
Military Antiques and Museum is a hidden treasure in Petaluma. Enter through the Petaluma Collective, walk to the back of the store and then down the stairs. First time visitors can’t help but find themselves blinking to try and take in the amazing array of uniforms, weapons, posters, gear and military paraphernalia that fills almost every inch of the 4,000-square-foot retail space.
The store, co-owned by Kevin Braafladt and Jason Yarnall, is constantly evolving as Jason and Kevin find unique items to add to the inventory. One recent example is a fully-functioning dog tag machine from WWII that stamps blank dog tags for re-enactors or relatives wanting to replace a lost dog tag for a family member.
Braafladt says that the most popular category is WWII field gear. Many of the items were brought back or sent home by American veterans as souvenirs of the war. “Everyone wanted to bring back a German helmet and luger.” Yarnall adds that all firearms have been “demilled” so that they are non-functional and inert. “Owning one of these weapons is the same as owning a hammer.”
Braafladt says that a lot of effort goes into researching items and he finds it very rewarding when they are able to connect a service member’s story with the uniform through photos. “We want the lineage and background because when we preserve history, it preserves their story.”
So much to see and so much to be learned from each unique item. I was particularly intrigued by a WWII two-piece shearling-lined leather cold weather flight suit. Looking at it, I couldn’t help wondering where was home for the size 36R soldier who wore this? Did he wear it during combat? What was his fate? These questions could be asked about every piece in the store. It’s such a personal connection with history – it’s both overwhelming and humbling.
And that’s all before you get to the museum located at the back of the store. Dedicated to Petaluma’s only native born recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Sgt. Richard A. Penry, Memorial Military Museum tells the stories of key battles and locations through life-size dioramas designed by Sonoma State students. The amount of history packed into this compact space is impressive.
New exhibits are planned for the museum including a “Women in the Military” display. Braafladt showed me a beautiful wool uniform made in England worn by a woman serving in the Airforce Weather Service. Once the display is in place, I look forward to learning more about the story of the extraordinary woman who wore it.
Military Antiques and Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. or by appointment or visit their website; over 70% of the items in the store are available online.