There are pack rats, and there are collectors.
Gary Webb’s the latter, and he’s just turned his decades old assortment of military ware and memorabilia into downtown Savannah’s newest museum.
Walk through Webb Military Museum on East York Street, and you’ll see the cockpit of a MiG-21 fighter jet. And “Buffalo Soldier” regalia from the historic African-American 92nd Infantry Division. And mementos from an 8th Air Force gunner who flew missions over Europe in World War II.
There’s even a uniform from the Chatham Artillery — Georgia’s oldest military unit and the namesake of Savannah’s signature cocktail.
The 59-year-old Webb says the cases full of displays crammed in the small space just off Columbia Square only represent about one-third of his personal collection.
“History was just my favorite subject,” Webb said.
That, and it was part of his life. Webb’s one of those military kids who grows up in a slew of different cities and countries. His mom grew up in London when Nazis were bombing the city, and his dad was a career Air Force officer.
The items that started Webb’s collection are in the museum. Among them are hats his grandfather wore when he was in London’s fire brigade in World War II.
In the mornings, after Nazi planes had left the airspace above the city, Webb’s grandfather would dig through the rubble for bodies.
“That resonated with me,” Webb said. “Can you imagine being 35, 40 years old and that’s what you’re doing every day?”
Stories like that are what Webb is trying to showcase. One is of family photos found in the hat of a German soldier from World War II. A few are of the ancestors of Savannah’s own residents.
One’s a display dedicated to a Korean War fighter pilot whose log tells of strafing 20 trucks and a supply train in one day.
“It’s personal stuff,” Webb said. “People think, ‘Man, I had a hard day.’ This guy had a real hard day.”
The other side of the display holds the uniform of an American solider who’s still considered missing in action in Korea.
“Now, he’s immortalized in my museum,” Webb said.
It’s a unique museum in a city of museums — there’s nothing really military-specific here, save for the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler.
Webb likes to showcase uniforms from wars most people don’t know much about. The museum has items on display from conflicts such as the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Of course, he’s got some more contemporary items, too, like Bob Hope’s USO uniform.
The museum is set up for self-guided tours, but Webb says he’s happy to answer any questions from visitors.
“It can take you a half hour to go through, and I’ve had people in here an hour and a half,” Webb said. “A lot of people have a lot of questions. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked to tell the story about how I got the MiG. I don’t mind telling them.”
WEBB MILITARY MUSEUM
Webb Military Museum, located at 411 E. York St. in downtown Savannah, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
General admission is $9. Admission for seniors 62 and older is $8, and children 8-17 are admitted for $6. Admission is free for children younger than 8 and for all active-duty members of the military.
For more information, go to www.webbmilitarymuseum.com or call 912-663-0398.