CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The legacy of a Vietnam War veteran who was an avid collector of military vehicles will live on in a new exhibition hall in Cedar Rapids, along with space for veterans to share fellowship.
Foxhole “Charlie” Bar & Grill and the Max Betenbender Military Exhibition Hall, 621 Center Point Rd. NE, will be formally dedicated at a ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 18, 2020.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, face masks and social distancing will be required at the ceremony, set to take place outdoors at the site of the new facilities, just doors down from the headquarters of the Freedom Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates the new restaurant and exhibition hall.
The organization serves to support veterans with programs that include a food pantry, lunch program, transportation, housing and more. Last year, the Freedom Foundation served 8,761 veterans, family members and guests at its center at 608 Center Point Rd. NE.
“We wanted to have a special place for veterans and a destination for the community,” Chuck Elias, president and CEO of the Freedom Foundation, said of the new facilities.
Veterans can enjoy free coffee, discounted meals and have a place to play cards and socialize at Foxhole “Charlie” Bar & Grill, which also will be open to the public.
No admission will be charged to the exhibition hall, where school children and others can learn about history and positive aspects of the military, which Elias describes as teamwork, discipline, loyalty and honesty.
The pandemic put the opening on hold, but plans are in place to open the restaurant’s “mess hall” beginning at 6 a.m. Monday, July 20.
Elias, a graduate of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, who served in the U.S. Army from 1977 to 1980, worked in an eclectic mix of occupations after his military service, including owning a nursing home in Marion, operating a security business and serving as a bodyguard to former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, as well as working as a bounty hunter.
His uncle, William Shanahan Jr., is among veterans who have a place of honor inside the exhibition hall. Shanahan was just 23 when he died while serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
His remains were identified last year and buried Sept. 3, 2019, in his hometown of Cedar Rapids,
Rare photos, service medals, posters, letters sent during wartime and more are displayed throughout the site, including inside a custom-made bar that serves as a showcase for some of the memorabilia.
“Everything came from veterans,” Elias said. “Even purple hearts that the families gave us.”
Veterans who use the center include those from World War II to the present, including Bob Clark, now in his 90s, who flew 53 B-17 missions during WWII.
Elias hopes families will donate photos of veterans in uniform that will be displayed in what he describes as the most important part of the exhibition hall: a “Hall of Honor.”
Already, dozens of photos of men and women service members are framed in the special portion of the hall in recognition of their military service.
Authentic military vehicles, including a World War II Jeep, a weapons carrier and military ambulance, along with an M2 Howitzer 105 mm towed gun, also are among the artifacts prominently displayed inside the exhibition hall.
Max Betenbender, president of Betenbender Manufacturing in Coggon, Iowa, served in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1967 during the Vietnam War and displayed the many U.S. military vehicles he collected at area parades and festivals; some of which are now at the exhibition hall.
Betenbender died in 2019, but his wife, Donna, plans to attend the ceremony.
“Max would be so happy because he really enjoyed doing things like this,” Elias said. “If it wasn’t for him, we couldn’t have done any of this. We’re trying to honor him and his wishes.”
Family members or veterans with photos of a service member in uniform from any branch of the military can call the Freedom Foundation office at (319) 826-2010.
See more photos from the Freedom Foundation, Foxhole “Charlie” Bar & Grill and the Max Betenbender Military Exhibition Hall: