CONNELLY SPRINGS — Phillip Leonard’s life has been about service.
A former staff sergeant in the United States Air Force and a retired officer with the Salisbury Police Department, Leonard’s most recent effort serves as a salute to his fellow veterans in the form of a new military museum in Connelly Springs, the Hall of Heroes.
“I retired from the police department and my prior service and started collecting military stuff,” Leonard said. “It kind of exploded on me. There was so much of it, I went and started a little store (Sgt. Leonard’s Military Surplus). Now, I’m trying to get it sold off and I’ve got a small, private museum that I’ve opened up to the public.
“I’m wanting to expand on that to where I can get a building where I break it down by branch of service. Veterans throughout the county will be able to bring their photos and stuff to hang up on the walls of honor for each branch of the service for everybody who’s been in the service in local counties.”
So far, Leonard’s collection features a wide array of military vehicles, including a M.A.S.H. jeep, an M151 Vietnam jeep, two deuce-and-a-half trucks and a communications truck, a water buffalo generator, military uniforms going back to World War I and all kinds of weapons and equipment going back to that same conflict.
In the future, he’d like to add more vehicles and equipment that are uncommon to see. But he’ll take anything relevant that folks want to donate.
Leonard served in the Air Force for 10 years, and it’s important to him to craft his museum the right way.
“I’m in this 100 percent,” he said. “Kids don’t get taught at schools about the military and what sacrifices have been made. Veterans sometimes feel like they’ve been forgotten.
“This is a place for them to call their own without needing a membership, or anything like that. It’s just a place for them.”
The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., along with the first and third Saturday of each month. There is no admission, though donations are accepted.
“I want to keep this thing free to the public,” Leonard said. “It’ll be funded through donations and out of my hip pocket. I’ve received several donations already from people who have been kind enough to stop in and donate stuff.”
Leonard was born in Burke County and raised in Lexington before working in Salisbury and retiring back to Burke, so the museum is a way for him to give back to the area he calls home.
“I’d like to see more people come on out and pay us a visit,” he said. “Get involved in it. Anyway we can get more support would be great.”
The museum is located at 1779 U.S. Highway 70 in Connelly Springs. For more information, call 704-245-4815 or visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/SgtLeonardSuplus.
Justin Epley can be reached at email@example.com or 828-432-8943.