Recently I had an opportunity to visit Florida. While I researched and found a number of military and aviation museums around the state, I did not have the opportunity to visit many of them. In fact, I only visited the one museum, the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, Florida.
This museum did not have a concentrated look at one area of history or one branch of the armed forces, but rather had a greater focus on looking at many of the armed conflicts the United States has been involved in since the First World War. Many part of this museum were wonderfully immersive, from wandering through the trenches of the First World War, to standing around models of the ships attacked at Pearl Harbour with a projection of planes flying on the day of the attack, to resisting the urge to swat at mosquitos while walking through a Vietnam swamp. The displays are wonderfully done, and done with a passion that is not always seen in museum setups.
As a Canadian, the strong American patriotism is something a little foreign, but I believe that seeing it in action in this museum has given me a better understanding of how I can shape my own work to better suit how many Americans feel the USAAF should be memorialized. In fact, the monuments that I saw while travelling around Florida gave a different perspective when compared to the small war memorials that can be found in every community in Newfoundland. I found many of the monuments in Florida were much grander, and many of them were also much newer than those erected after the First World War here.
From a research perspective, I very much enjoyed the exhibits that showed the kit bags used by Second World War airmen. In particular, the exhibit featured the uniform and kit of a B-24 Tuskegee airman. Such exhibits help me a great deal, especially when thinking of site visits where personal effects and parts of kits have been found. I will be sure to use the photographs I took for future reference.
As for the history enthusiast in me, I very much enjoyed the room featuring uniforms from across the Armed Forces and across the years. I showed the evolution of many of the uniforms, and the changing roles of women within the Armed Forces. As well, as someone who has watched M*A*S*H quite a bit, their detailed section of the Korean War was nice to see. It is often a conflict neglected in military museums, but this museum very much showcased it, and I learned that Rosie’s Bar was based on an actual place (to make my geeking out over M*A*S*H complete, I found a candy store that sold Grape Nehis!).
There are other activities that are available for additional fees, such as simulators and the opportunity to ride in a WWII M8 Reconnaissance Vehicle. But before you try to visit, check the website. Sadly, I would like to recommend this museum to anyone in the Largo/Clearwater Region, but the museum’s main benefactor recently passed away, and although this is a world-class museum (in my opinion) it is not sustainable if running solely on admissions. Therefore, the museum is currently in the process of closing. I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited the Armed Forces Museum in Largo, and while I did not get to any of the better known facilities, am happy I visited this one before it closed.
If you are in the St. Petersburg region, I would highly recommend visiting The Hangar restaurant. It overlooks Albert Whitted Airport, a small, active airport. While having a delicious burger, I had the opportunity to watch what I can only assume was a new pilot practicing takeoff and landing. It was a wonderful experience, and made for a great afternoon (plus the food, beer and service were wonderful!). If I get to go back again, I will see about contacting the Albert Whitted Airport Preservation Society about a tour.