CARTERVILLE, Mo. — Awareness, respect, and honor are the guiding principles behind a brand-new military museum now open in our area.

“There’s 10 flagpoles in my front yard. The big mural on the end of my pole barn – they can’t miss it,” said Claire Swatosh, Heroes Museum Founder.

It’s home for Claire Swatosh.

Also the headquarters for his part-time landscaping business.

But most importantly, it’s where he has opened the Route 66 Heroes Museum, honoring both first responders and the military.

“I’d already collected stuff from memorabilia from the military since 1970 and was doing a portable Museum, and I just got to where it was too hard to do. So I told my wife and my daughter I was gonna spend her inheritance and build the museum,” said Swatosh.

Claire started with his collection: flags and posters and anything military he ended up with while serving as a Marine from 1970 to 1991.

“I’ve still got stuff to unpack. And I get a lot of people will come in and donate something for the museum,” said Swatosh.

The museum houses a military buggy he built from scratch.

Not just traditional uniforms and hats, but also this unique metallic headgear.

“Well, that’s for military firefighting for chemical fires and aircraft or equipment fires,” said Swatosh.

The museum opened barely two weeks ago on old Route 66 just north of Carterville but has already attracted visitors from far beyond the Four States.

“From Europe, Spain, Australia, Russia,” said Swatosh.

Hours of operation are as needed.

Claire is happy to show visitors around as long as he’s home.

“It’s probably best to call before you know so they’re not wasting a trip out here,” said Swatosh.

But it’s not just what’s inside the building.

A monument across the parking lot has flags, statues, personalized stones — and an iron tree.

“If somebody wants to bring in dog tags and hang on it to know the dog tag represents a leaf, life of the tree,” said Swatosh.

It’s all a labor of love.

Claire has no idea how many items he’s got or how long it’s taken to put it all together.

There’s no cost for admission but donations are welcome.

“There’s no way I’d ever recoup what I’m paying or what I put into it. Again, it’s not about that. It’s about what it represents,” said Swatosh.

The sacrifice, the fallen, and the forgotten.

“This will be here long after I am,” said Swatosh.