FOUR CORNERS – What really made it all happen, Scott Carmean said, is the huge appeal that Central Florida holds for retirees.
And that includes retirees who have served in the military.
“The thing about Central Florida is we have retirees of all ages from all over the country and the world,” he said. “And it might be easier to do this here than anyplace else, except maybe a city in Arizona.”
Carmean is the director of the new Museum of Military History, located at 5210 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (U.S. 192) in Four Corners. The staff is spending the next few months organizing its exhibits in the 10,000 square foot building that will house this unique property.
The newly acquired museum building is undergoing renovations and a facelift before the displays, exhibits and interactive programs get moved in. Once it opens to the public next spring, the museum will provide educational exhibits dating back to the Civil War, and moving ahead to the current military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Starting with present day in Afghanistan, the visitor will walk back in time,” Carmean said. “The way the story is going to be told is through veterans and their experience. Starting with the Afghan conflict, there are a number of veterans who will do oral histories on it and talk about their experiences, so when visitors come in or school age children come in, they can learn specifically from people who are there today.”
The museum will be a tribute to their service – and to those who served in past conflicts, including the Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War II, and the Spanish-American War. Part of their mission in the next few months, Carmean said, is finding veterans who can provide those videotaped histories.
“We are losing our Korean war veterans, we are losing our Vietnam war veterans, and we only have a few World War II veterans left,” he said.
Still, there’s no question that the museum owes its very existence to those aging veterans – and that Central Florida’s appeal to retirees was critical.
“We really get a broad spectrum here,” Carmean said. “It’s not just veterans from here. We can’t think of it like that. These veterans are from all over the country. It is not just for the locals. No one is originally from this area. I’m from Oregon myself. I had spent over 30 years in the military before I went back to school in Pensacola, and my son is a Marine fighter pilot right now.”
The museum compiled the vast majority of its historic artifacts from local veterans who live in this region, and donated a whole host of their military property to the museum – “thousands of items, from a little pin to uniforms to a military maintenance coordinator,” Carmean said. “We have only purchased a small amount of stuff.”
The Museum of Military History, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit, private organization, with a mission of educating the public about our nation’s military, while increasing awareness and building knowledge of the American military experience through interactive, interpretive exhibits designed for visitors of all ages.
“We’ve been planning this institution for several years, and thanks to the Osceola Board of County Commissioners and the Tourist Development Council, the museum is becoming a reality,” said Don Smith, chairman of the museum’s board of directors. “Being a veteran and knowing the importance of teaching military history to our residents and tourists from around the world, particularly the younger generation, I am proud to represent this institution as it becomes a part of our community.”
Rob Dent, the spokesman for the museum, added that his job will be to raise awareness of the facility before the grand opening, now slated for March 31.
“Few communities have both the opportunity to honor their veterans and also have the benefit of learning about the history of our military in their own museum,” Dent said. “Osceola County can count themselves among those that can do both. Early next year, the Museum of Military History will open its doors to visitors interested in learning about military heritage, the branches of service and the campaigns that have forged our military into the most powerful fighting and deterrent force in the world.”
The museum started out as a much less ambitious effort at the Osceola Square Mall, which had lost some of its retail stores when the new, larger shopping mall called The Loop opened on the Osceola Parkway. Some veterans asked the Osceola Square Mall if they could have a small space to create a special memorial to veterans.
“They created a little tribute to veterans in there, and it started expanding,” Carmean said. “Other veterans began donating things to them. We’ve got guys who did 18 months to over 30 year careers in the military, and they started bringing their stuff in, and they just started putting it together and putting it on display, and it got bigger and bigger until they got to 2,000 square feet.”
As word spread about the museum, it got large enough to hire an executive director, and Carmean was chosen in May 2009. One of his top tasks was to find the museum a larger, permanent home.
“We began talking to our county commissioners and looking for a home to move out of the mall,” he said. “In 2010, they decided to find us a new home.”
The building chosen to house them is right in the heart of Four Corners, close to other attractions like Old Town, which Carmean thinks is perfect for their mission.
“We’re down in the tourist area, where we need to be,” Carmean said. “It’s a very good building. We are hoping for a March 31 grand opening, and now I am focused primarily on the renovation and design of the building. Rob is looking to get out into the community and get people involved and sign up for memberships, and let the people in the Kissimmee area know about us.”
Dent noted that “the museum is self-sustaining, so sponsors and members are also being sought. If you have interest in becoming a founder or member, please visit the museum website at www.MuseumofMilitaryHistory.com.”
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