MILFORD, Conn. — Looking at the sword, one can only imagine the adventures it witnessed.
It once belonged to a general in the Imperial Army and it was surrendered to the Allies in the closing weeks of World War II on a far-off Pacific island.
For years that sword was gathering dust in the never-opened Johnson Military Museum, a collection of locally donated wartime artifacts.
Now those artifacts, most lovingly donated by local residents, have finally found a proper home at The West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center — and just in time for the Independence Day weekend.
It's believed that parts of that collection date back to the Civil War and even earlier, when campaigns were carried out on horseback, under sail and with swords, bayonets and muskets.
Veterans' advocate Edward Muth, who has been prodding the city to do something with the collection, said that he was happy that city officials finally decided to loan the collection to a place where the items could be properly cared for in a secure location.
"I am proud to have had a part in this and that my artifacts, donated to the city of Milford, will again see the light of day," Muth said.
The little-known collection was kept in the city's Fowler Building. Located near the Public Library on New Haven Avenue, it's where the Veterans, Ceremony & Parade Commission stages its monthly meetings. Although a sign in back announces that the "Johnson Military Museum" was inside, the collection was only seen by a handful of people over the years. It was never formally opened the public, even though it was set up by the Board of Alderman 30 years ago.
The always-shuttered museum was named after Robert DeForest Johnson, the Army Air Corps sergeant who spent time in Germany's notorious Stalag 17B after his bomber was shot down over Holland. Conditions there were brutal, with 4,000 men crammed into barracks made for 250. Johnson, who also served in Korea, went on to become Milford's veterans' service officer. He died in 1984.
The collection also includes a 19th century officer's naval uniform, aviator goggles from World War II, a gas mask from the trenches of World War I. It's believed the one of the hats might even be from the Napoleonic Wars. Some of the uniforms date back to the Civil War. Another sword was likely from the Indian campaigns out West.
The collection was moved to West Haven on Wednesday, city officials said. For decades, the artifacts mostly sat in boxes stacked up against a wall, and for years they weren't even under lock and key. Most were donated by Milford veterans and their wives and children.
"Give credit to Tom Flowers and Mayor Ben Blake — they're the ones who finally got this done," Muth said. Flowers is the chairman of the Veterans, Ceremony & Parade Commission (formerly known as the Fowler Memorial Commission), which deals with issues relating to veterans in the city. It also oversees the Fowler Building.
"Under the agreement, the city of Milford can ask for the collection back at any time," Flowers said. "And it's a really nice museum. It's run by volunteers and they really know what they're doing."
City officials had considered a few other options over the years, including displaying the collection in city schools and at the Public Library.
Returning the items to the families who donated them was another idea. But most of those people have since died or moved away, those familiar with the collection say.
"They were in the Fowler Building for 24 years, and it's about time," Flowers said. "We're all happy that they'll finally be displayed."
The West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center, 30 Hood Terrace West Haven, is open on Wednesdays from noon to 4 p.m., Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.