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Hidden military museum in Vista looking for a new home

Harris Gilroy is a cabinetmaker by trade. But, tucked in the back of his woodworking shop in Vista, he has a hidden treasure that he calls his "World War II minimuseum," although it doesn't just feature items from WWII.

"The first room contains (items from) Vietnam, Gulf War, with a little bit of Korea," Gilroy said. "But the real guts of the museum is the WWII collection in the back room. There's over 2,000 artifacts ... a life's collection."

The walls are filled with military memorabilia including uniforms, armaments, and insignia. Gilroy's collection includes artifacts from both Allied and Axis forces.

Pictured, military artifacts inside of the Cactus Militaria museum in Vista, Calif. May 26, 2023.
Jacob Aere
Pictured are military artifacts inside of the Cactus Militaria museum in Vista on May 26, 2023.

Gilroy's collection started when he and his brother were young boys. "Back then, after WWII — my brother's older — he could get all this stuff at the local Army-Navy surplus store. So he started collecting and we just built on the collection over the years."

Some of the items were purchased at estate sales. Others were donated to him by the families of service members.

But, beyond the collection of the artifacts, Gilroy has studied the person and meaning behind each of the items.

"I’m a historian and a collector, and I wanted to display the things so people could enjoy them," Gilroy said. "I can tell you stories for hours. I've done countless hours of reading and studying. I went to Palomar College after I graduated to bone up on my history of this whole stuff, and it's been great."

As proud as Gilroy is of his collection, he’s prouder that he can share his knowledge with the public.


But that’s changing, because the building where the museum is housed was recently sold, forcing him to move.

"In the beginning of August, this museum will be looking for a new home somewhere. I don't have room for it in my little beach house," Gilroy said.  

While he isn’t ready to part ways with his collections, he is looking for an opportunity to continue sharing it with the world.

"We're just hoping and praying something comes forward. There's several ideas on the table but it takes funding, and it takes the interest of somebody that has available room, to get this museum set up again," he said.

Pictured, the entrance to the Cactus Militaria military museum in Vista, Calif. May 26, 2023.
Jacob Aere
Pictured is the entrance to the Cactus Militaria military museum in Vista on May 26, 2023.

And his goal is to showcase his collection because he says the world of today would look different if it wasn’t for the sacrifice many of these service members made.

"We would not be able to enjoy the freedoms we have as Americans without the guys that fought in WWII. It's as simple as that. It's important we tell their stories and see their artifacts," Gilroy said.

Museum tours can still be scheduled before the move by contacting Gilroy at Cactus Militaria. The number is 760-758-0098.