FOUR CORNERS – On March 31, the tourism corridor along U.S. 192 that runs from Northeast Polk County down past Four Corners and Celebration will welcome in a very special new attraction, one not geared toward thrill rides, but the remarkable history this nation has endured through eight wars.
“It will be from a historical perspective, with different rooms designed for different conflicts the United States has been involved in, starting with the Civil War and going to World War I and World War II, on to the Korean War and Vietnam and our current conflicts in the Middle East,” said Robert Dent. Visitors will be able to walk through those wars and really step back into history and get the full military experience of what it’s been like. Those wars were fought very differently even 15 years ago than they were 150 years ago. Strategies have changed, and different technologies have impacted that.”
After months of putting everything together, the Museum of Military History will open its doors to the public on Saturday, March 31 at noon. Located at 5210 W. 192, the 10,000 square foot museum will provide interactive displays and exhibits beginning with historical photos, uniforms and interpretations of those past wars, and offer guided as well as self-guided tours.
It will also feature veterans’ oral histories, as former or active duty service men and women recollect their military experience to share with visitors.
Dent, the marketing and development director for the new museum, said the staff is spending this final week getting everything set for the big day.
“I think we’ll be ready,” he said. “For the last few weeks, of course, getting the word out to the general public has been one of the key things we’re doing, and alongside that preparing the museum for its grand opening.”
The newly acquired museum building has been undergoing renovations and a facelift, work that needed to be done before the displays, exhibits and interactive programs could get moved in — because there was a lot of items to bring into the facility.
The museum compiled the vast majority of its historic artifacts from local veterans who live in this region, who had donated a whole host of their military property to this project — thousands of items in total.
The Museum of Military History, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit, private organization, with a mission of educating the public about this nation’s military, while increasing awareness and building knowledge of the American military experience through interactive, interpretive exhibits designed for visitors of all ages.
The museum started out as a more modest effort at the Osceola Square Mall. When that mall lost some retail stores, a small group of veterans asked the mall’s owners if they could have a space to create a special memorial to veterans. It continued expanding, and eventually got large enough to hire an executive director. They also began looking for a larger, permanent home, and convinced Osceola County commissioners to help them find one. The building chosen was in the heart of Four Corners, close to other attractions like Old Town, allowing the museum to go from 2,000 square feet of space to 10,000 – a huge jump.
But they needed it, Dent said, because there was so much to move in there – as well as new items being donated all the time.
“We had an interim stop,” Dent said. “We moved everything out of the old museum site into a warehouse, and it was packed in there as best we could. The next move out of the warehouse, we took the things that had been donated to us and acquired over the years and put them in the exhibits.”
Dent said he expects the public to be surprised at how much the museum has to offer – and how much there is to learn about our military history.
“We don’t use the same type of weaponry today that we once did,” he said. “Take nuclear weapons. Those haven’t been used, despite the fact that we’ve been in conflicts since the atomic bomb was developed at the end of World War II, and I think that speaks volumes on how the world views those weapons. But wars have been fought on different levels and scales ever since.”
The building housing this museum has one floor, but an additional benefit to the size, Dent said, is that “fortunately it gives us some high ceilings, so that will give us an added perspective to the viewers as they come through.”
The museum will be open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students and veterans.
The museum operates under the umbrella of the Osceola Veterans Tribute and Museum, and as Dent noted, it will be a resource for students and a place available to host military reunions.
“We’re getting questions from a multitude of people on a variety of things, some just interested in the museum and its presence in the community, and we’ve gotten the history buff just interested in seeing this come to the community,” Dent said. “And we’ve been contacted by people who have military items, from Vietnam and Korea or even World War I, who would like to loan it out or donate them to us, and all those items needs to be inventoried and identified before it goes on display so we get accurate information.”
The museum is also encouraging people to check out its annual membership plan, which provides all the benefits of regular admission, plus unlimited visits to the museum and inclusion in selected special events; early invitation to pre-register for paid events; a monthly museum e-newsletter, and personalized membership card; and membership to partner museums. Membership classifications include an individual membership for $35, an annual family membership for $75, and for businesses, an annual corporate membership ranging from $100 to $150, depending on the number of employees involved.
“The most important thing is the museum is not static,” Dent said. “It’s not going to be set up where you just stand back and say, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ It’s going to be a dynamic display of military experiences, and there will be new things added all the time, and an opportunity for speakers to come and share their expertise on aspects of the military experience. We’ve also had a lot of interest from reunion groups coming in and spending time at the museum.”
To learn more, visit the website at MuseumofMilitaryHistory.com.
“We’re there for the veterans, and we’re there for the people who want to learn about the hundreds of years this nation has had a presence around the world,” Dent said.
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