One such piece is the M-1921 self-propelled artillery piece - a tractor with a gun mounted on top - which the museum recently moved from a warehouse to its rehabilitation facility. "When we got it in, it quite literally collapsed," said Atwater, who has a doctorate in military history. Estimated cost to rebuild: $45,000.
Another exhibit displays a Saddam Hussein painting and an Iraqi flag seized by troops from a presidential palace in Iraq.
On a given day, Atwater and his staff alternately greet high-school students conducting research and graying military veterans in search of a favorite weapon.
The museum has had some odd visitors over the years. There was the Australian man who came to the museum every day for six months, taking pictures and measuring artifacts. A machinist, he had planned to make models of the weapons back home, Atwater said.
On a recent afternoon, curator Ed Heasely pulled on white gloves and showed the fully automatic 12-gauge shotgun to about 20 visitors. The gun is so powerful that when its maker fired the first round, he broke his wrist. Heasely estimated its value at $1 million.
"It's one of only eight in the world that I know of," Heasely told the crowd.
Charles Angalet of Delaware, visiting with his girlfriend, said he's fascinated by the progression of technology. He pointed out how the German Panzer I tank, first used in 1939 in Poland, quickly progressed to the behemoth German Panther. "Three years later the size is quintupled," he said.
Alan Killinger, a museum specialist in charge of restoring the weapons, said the museum has a place in the hearts of veterans. "When you're in combat, your weapon is an extension of your body," said Killinger, 56, who was awarded two Purple Hearts in Vietnam. "You eat with your weapon, you sleep with your weapon, because you never know when you'll need it."