Two history buffs decided it was time to take a leap of faith. With no previous experience as business owners under their belts, Sonoma State University students Kevin Braafladt and Jason Yarnall made the leap and took the Military Antiques Museum off the hands of its previous owner. Over the last year, both Braafladt and Yarnall have worked out the details to finally become the new owners and caretakers of the museum.
Located in downtown Petaluma, the museum features military antiques from the Vietnam War and World War II. Their passion comes from years of studying history and visiting the museum.
“My hope is to be able to better tell the stories of both veterans from Sonoma County and the rest of the country by telling what they fought and sometimes died for,” said Braafladt.
The museum is dedicated in memory to Sergeant Richard Penry who is Sonoma County’s only Medal of Honor recipient. Penry, who was born and raised in Petaluma, received the medal for his heroism during the Vietnam War in 1970.
Their interest in military antiques in particular is because they believe almost every item that comes through the store tells the story of either the person who used them or the evolution of warfare over the years.
“One of the most important things to both [Kevin] and I,” Yarnall said, “is to keep the story alive.”
When an item is brought to Braafladt and Yarnall, they try to learn as much as they can in order to better understand the individual history of that piece.
Braafladt first fell in love with military history at the age of 5 when he visited Gettysburg with his parents. After they bought him a bullet recovered from the battlefield, he knew that military history was his true passion. Yarnall, Braafladt’s business partner, found his passion for history while spending a year in Germany as a foreign exchange student after high school. Today, the store has many German war relics brought home by U.S. soldiers as war trophies.
With the amount of time it takes to build and support a business, Braafladt and Yarnall have sometimes found it difficult to keep up with school work. Braafladt, currently seeking his master's degree in history, and Yarnall, a junior getting his degree in mathematics, spend an average of 35 to 50 hours a week at the store and museum.
“We have to get creative sometimes and study or do homework between handling phone calls, and helping customers or stay after work to finish our homework,” said Braafladt. “It’s a constant game of time management. I think we do pretty well considering the amount of things we have accomplished so far while being able to maintain decent grades in school.”
The museum is currently the largest combination military retail store and museum on the West Coast with about 6,000 square feet of space. Currently, the museum is privately funded, but Braafladt and Yarnall are working hard to get non-profit status to help with their efforts of expanding. As far as plans for the future, Braafladt said he will continue to work at the store, but will try to focus more time on the museum to improve and expand current displays.
Customer service has always been a priority for both Braafladt and Yarnall, and they will continue to strive for it in the future.
“We always try to be up front with our customers,” said Braafladt, “If we find that an item is worth more than our original estimate, we have policy of contacting them to try and make up the difference in what we paid.”
Their overall goal for the museum is simple though.
Yarnall said, “Through our museum we can help teach and share the individual’s side of events that happened during important and pivotal times in our history.”
The store and museum are open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and is available by appointment Monday through Wednesday. Admission to the museum is free and they welcome school/tour groups, but strongly recommend two weeks advance notice to arrange for a guide. The store and museum, are located in the basement of the Petaluma Antique Collective at 300 Petaluma Blvd North. For more information on the museum, visit militaryantiquesmuseum.com.