FOUR CORNERS – For an institution that prides itself on discipline and order, asking the Armed Forces if they’re going to be ready for a crucial deadline is pointless, noted Vinnie Monitto.
“The military is always ready,” he smiled.
That may be why on Monday, as scores of boxes lay scattered all across the 10,000 square foot building at 5210 U.S. 192, Monitto was confident that by Saturday, the facility that now houses the Museum of Military History will be fully prepared to welcome in the public for the first time.
“There are people who have been working day and night to get things ready,” said Monitto, a member of the museum’s board of directors. “And finally we have the space so we can do a proper job here, and to preserve history. That’s a part of our mission.”
Don Smith, the chairman of the museum’s board of directors, was also confident that the museum, which will host a grand opening ceremony at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 31, can proudly open its doors that day to show the public different rooms designed for wars starting from the Civil War, then continuing to World War I and World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, right up to the current conflicts in the Middle East – a highly ambitious undertaking.
“We’ll be ready,” Smith said. “We know pretty much where everything will go.”
Once its doors open this weekend, the Museum of Military History will provide interactive displays and exhibits that include historical photos, uniforms and interpretations of those past wars, and offer guided as well as self-guided tours. It will feature veterans’ oral histories, as former or active duty service men and women recollect their military experience to share with visitors.
Pointing to a wall near the front entrance, Smith noted “This is going to be our Medal of Honor wall.” It includes a list of Medal of Honor recipients from the state of Florida, as well as Puerto Rican Medal of Honor recipients.
Then there will be rooms devoted to the individual wars – starting with the most recent.
“You’ll be walking first into our current conflict, which is Afghanistan,” Smith said.
The Museum of Military History, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit, private organization. The mission is to educate 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.
“Would you believe that we started this museum with one uniform in the Osceola Square Mall?” Smith said. “It started with one uniform. This museum has grown from that.”
A small group of veterans had 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 and Fun Spot, allowing the museum to go from 2,000 square feet of space to 10,000 – a huge jump.
To make it happen, the museum often relied on donations from local veterans who have given them all the items that are on display – some items provided on loan, others meant to become a permanent part of the museum. This donations keep on coming as word spreads about the museum and its mission, said Rob Dent, the marketing and development director.“We regularly get calls from people who have things to give from themselves or from their family members,” he said.
That includes a large amount of World War II memorabilia loaned to the museum by Frank Abbott, who does reenactments of that war.
“He is a reenactor of World War II, and he collects artifacts from the second world war,” said Scott Carmean, the executive director of the museum. “He found out we were trying to build a larger museum, and it’s getting bigger as we speak.”
Carmean said the museum has been getting a unique number of donated items in recent weeks.
“We’ve got a few medals from the Spanish-American War, enough to create a display,” he said of the conflict that dates back to 1898.
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 will be a resource for students and a destination for military reunions.
It will also be a museum that evolves continuously, Smith noted.
“This is going to be an ever-changing place,” he said, as the museum gets new historical items, and hosts special events or marks significant military dates and anniversaries.
“We have certain ceremonies that we will be doing,” Smith said.
“That’s why we sell an annual membership,” Dent noted. “It’s not just that you come see it once, and that’s it, you’ve seen it all.”
The annual membership plan provides the benefits of regular admission, plus unlimited visits to the museum, inclusion in selected special events; early invitations to pre-register for paid events; a monthly museum e-newsletter, updates and special events, and a 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.
To learn more, visit the website at MuseumofMilitaryHistory.com.