How Americans in Wartime Came to Be

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Provided by Americans in Wartime Experience

Allan Cors is known as the man who is the heart and soul of the Americans in Wartime Experience. The story of the Americans in Wartime Experience, the Tank Farm, and the annual Open House is an important one, and one that people ask about all the time. Allan understands this and was gracious enough to spend some time answering the questions that so many have been anxious to hear.
Born in Cincinnati, Allan has a fascination with military history that began at the age of 10 or 11 after reading books written by Joseph Altsheler, a late 18th and early 19th century historical fiction author. Allan said the books “stirred his imagination.” This dovetailed with his time as a Cub Scout, where he was in a pack run by a retired Marine who thought that “every young man should be a shooter.” Allan learned to shoot at a firing range in the basement of a nearby church. From there, he would become involved in competitive shooting.
It was around the time that Allan began competitive shooting that he became interested in gun collecting. Once in high school, he said he got serious about collecting, which has continued throughout his life. This was especially true when he moved to Virginia. According to Allan, Virginia was the best place to collect arms, in the shadow of InterArms Inc., at one time the largest supplier of small arms in the world.

How it all Began

A serious collector of small arms since 1962, Allan’s burgeoning collection led him learn more about those who served, the equipment that they used, and the duties they had to perform. This got him into service rifle shooting, first with the M1 Garand, then the M14, and eventually the M16. Annual competitions were held at Camp Perry where Allan and the Virginia state team did very well.
Allan’s interest in military history, small arms shooting, and collecting eventually led him to begin acquiring items of a larger scale. It was his quest to know what it was like for the veterans that motivated him to purchase a WWII Jeep in 1982, which was manufactured by Ford. After that he acquired weapons carriers and trucks. But then he purchased something a bit larger. Something that would eventually lead to the property we know as the “Tank Farm” getting its name. In 1985, Allan purchased his first tank, an M5A1 Stuart. This would be his first armored vehicle, but certainly not his last.
tank farm

Allan’s 1st Purchase – WWII Jeep

Allan acquired enough military vehicles to fill up a warehouse in Warrenton and then another warehouse in Crystal City. But the collecting didn’t stop, so in 1989 he purchased Aden Field in Nokesville. With his collection now housed at Aden Field, it became known as the Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles, later known as the Tank Farm. It was shortly afterwards that he hired staff to restore and maintain the various pieces. More buildings were added as the needs of the collection grew. According to Allan, “it’s been a lot of fun!”
Allan is often asked how many pieces of military equipment he owns between armor, trucks, jeeps and the like. He always gives the same answer, “I don’t know.” With such a large collection, it can be hard to keep track of everything. While the primary emphasis is on U.S. equipment, other pieces came from Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France, England, Canada, Israel, and Russia.

Finding and Purchasing a Tank

How does one go about finding and purchasing a tank? According to Allan, there are a variety of ways. The first tank was acquired from a gentleman in Tennessee, who found it in a scrap yard and fixed it up and sold it. It had been sold for scrap by the Army. The richest source of vehicles, according to Allan, is Europe, where the French, British, and Italians are avid collectors, particularly of U.S. military equipment. One very interesting find is Allan’s M10 Tank Destroyer. It was discovered under 100 feet of junk at a scrap yard in England. Apparently, it had been dumped there after World War II, fortunately upside down, which left the interior of the vehicle pretty much dry.
Dealers and other collectors are the eyes and ears of military museums. When they find or hear about something that might interest people like Allan, they pick up the phone and call. In the early 1990s, while at an open house event, the German ambassador told Allan that it was costing his government $5,000 apiece to cut up tanks that the Russians had left behind. The ambassador asked him if he’d like to have some. The answer was a “yes!” said Allan with a chuckle. It was from this point that the influx of Russian and East German vehicles occurred.

Parts and Restoration

Many of the vehicles Allan has acquired needed to be restored to some degree, and since you cannot go to the store to obtain parts for vehicles like the American Sherman Tank, or the Russian T-34, parts must be found in other ways. Many years ago, Allan and a good friend would go to Canada and other places around the world and buy containers full of parts that they knew would be needed someday. If they could get engines or other parts for a good price, they would buy them and store them away. Through this process, over a period of five years, Allan brought in 25 forty-foot containers full of parts. Those parts have been a “great source for keeping these things running,” according to Allan.
In addition to those parts purchased many years ago, Marc Sehring, who runs the day-to-day operations at the Farm, is very skilled at finding parts through friends in the restoration business and on the Internet. And if he can’t find them, he makes them. Allan says that it’s amazing what Marc and his team, made up of mostly volunteers, have done. As far as the restoration process, “it takes patience, experience, and hard work.” And according to Allan, it can be dirty and nasty. It can take roughly one to two man-years to restore a tank like an M10 depending on the level of restoration needed.
Many of the vehicles have been shown off at the annual Open House, and some have been seen in film and television. If you’ve seen the critically acclaimed show House of Cards, you have seen some of the vehicles. His vehicles have been in movies like Super 8, Flags of our Fathers, and Mars Attack, to name a few. And when the request to use the vehicles comes, it’s a blessing, as the revenue goes to paying for some of the expenses incurred from restoring and maintaining the vehicles in Allan’s collection.
The oldest vehicle in the collection is an M1917 Light Tank, which is the first U.S. production tank. It’s a copy of the French Renault FT 17. The tank was acquired in a trade with another collector who purchased it but didn’t want to take the time and effort to fix it up. During the de-militarization process, the government broke the head on the engine. Twelve years later, the tank was completely restored and back up and running. It’s now one of the prized possessions in Allan’s collection.

The Annual Tank Farm Open House

Allan said that the first Open House was in the early 1990s. Allan had friends who knew about the collection and told him that they would like to see his tanks. The first year he had about 15 people out to the Farm and brought out a few tanks and ran them around the field. Each year thereafter, more and more people came. Soon, a more formal program began to take shape with the addition of special events and speakers. The event has grown every year, and in 2021, over 16,000 visitors came to the Open House over the two-day event.
tank farm

Allan speaking with Thomas Gill at an Open House

The Open House is no longer just tanks. From its humble beginnings, the event has evolved to now include K-9 and flame thrower demonstrations, a mock assault by the Marine Corps Historical Society, living history units, vendor displays, food trucks and much more. Each year the event grows and sees an influx of bigger and bigger crowds.

Educate, Honor, and Inspire

In 2008, Allan was asked to provide a few vehicles and tanks for a display in Manassas to promote veterans and service to our country. That, combined with the events being held at the Tank Farm and the speakers, made Allan realize that his interest was not so much the vehicles, but in those who served, both during wartime and peacetime. Whether it be on the front lines or back in the United States, everybody in uniform served their country in one way or another. And it’s their service and sacrifice that the Americans in Wartime Experience strives to spotlight, educating current and future generations, honoring their service, and inspiring others to serve.
Educate, Honor, and Inspire has been our motto since the first days of the museum. According to Allan, the vehicles are a way to grab people’s attention so the story of those who served this great country can be told. The museum will not be a “tank museum,” rather, its primary focus will be on people…. telling their accounts of wartime whether abroad or working here on the home front. Unlike most museums, the Americans in Wartime Experience will feature landscapes of war from World War I to present and vehicles that are operational, not just static displays. It will sit on property by the Hylton family located at Dale Boulevard and Interstate 95 in Prince William County. In addition to the land, Hylton is also donating the development of the land.

Others Who Helped

tank farm

Allan at the Groundbreaking with John & Ernestine Jenkins, Donnie Hylton, and Craig Stewart

There are many who have been and continue to be instrumental in the creation of the museum. Perhaps one of the most influential was the late John D. Jenkins. John served two tours in Vietnam before retiring from the Army. He served on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and was “the guy who really brought this together,” says Allan. Supervisor Jenkins knew what Allan wanted to do and also wanted it to happen, and then he brought the Hylton family into the relationship. It was John and the Hylton family who were the key players to making everything happen.

Voices of Freedom

In addition to the military vehicles that will be used to tell the story of Americans in Wartime, the museum will feature a veterans history project. The Voices of Freedom’s (VOF) mission is to record and preserve the stories and experiences of Americans who served and sacrificed during wartime. Allan says that there is nothing that compares when it comes to telling the story of our service men and women than to hear about it from them. You can read about it in a book or see it in a movie, but it’s not the same as hearing it directly from the person who lived it.
The VOF is funded by Laurie Landeau and Robert Maze, who are good friends of Allan’s. “They have been very generous in supporting the project,” he says. They provide the resources needed to continue to record and preserve the 650 plus interviews conducted so far by VOF staff. Without their support, hundreds of veterans would not have had the opportunity to have their stories captured, and their families might have never known what their loved ones did to preserve our freedoms.
The Americans in Wartime Experience was founded to tell the story of the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans who answered the call of duty during times of war. Allan Cors is the driving force behind that effort. He is the heart and soul of the museum, and the reason why thousands of people have become more aware and educated about those veterans and their service as well as the equipment they used to defend freedom and defeat tyranny. He’s the reason there is a Tank Farm, the reason there is an annual Open House, and he’s the reason that very soon, there will be a museum where thousands more can come to be educated and inspired.
tank farm

Allan with Sebastian Gorka and Medal of Honor Recipient Maj. Gen. James Livingston
at this Year’s Open House

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