There are 1.5 million Floridians who served in the United States Armed Forces so it is not surprised that there are dozens of memorial gardens and local museums to honor the military past and present. My father met my mother while training at Drew Field for the Third Air Force (Army) and Florida was home to dozens of airbases and other training facilities.
There are several dozen large museums that not only provide a great family excursion, many of them are free to the public and supported by the contributions of Floridians who wish to honor our service men and women.
Cape Canaveral Rocket Launch Room
Here are some of the most distinguished museums and attractions and some that cover a specific area.
The National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS in Pensacola is home to the amazing Blue Angels and is one of the largest and most beautiful air and space museums in the world. There are over 140 beautifully restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Aviation and an IMAX Theater.
The museum is free and due to increasing security around American military installations, you might want to call (800) 327-5002, or go online to see if any exhibits or areas are restricted.
Eastward along the Panhandle’s white beaches is the huge Eglin Air Force Base, home to the Air Force Armament Museum, open everyday but Sunday. Call (850) 651-1808 for the latest information.
The Air Force Armament Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of artifacts and memorabilia associated with Air Force Armament and its platforms of delivery. It is not bunch of photographs but a fleet of vintage military aircraft including the fastest plane ever built – the SR-71 Blackbird!
Florida’s military museums are not just airplanes. I love the Navy Seal Museum on North Hutchinson Island in Fort Pierce. Located near where the Naval Combat Demotion Units and Underwater Demolition Teams, the forefathers of today’s SEALS, started training, the museum captures the secret world of these brave divers.
Up the Atlantic Coast are the huge rockets of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, located at Complex 26 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
It includes artifacts from the early American space program and includes an outdoor “rocket garden” displaying rockets, missiles and space-related equipment chronicling the story of the US Air Force.
The museum is open to the public as a part of the “Cape Canaveral: Then and Now” tour offered by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex four days per week and by free tours offered by the Air Force 45th Space Wing Community Relations office.
For a more personal look at Florida during World War II, you might want to visit the unique NAS Fort Lauderdale Museum, also known as the Link Trainer Building #8. The site near the airport has reconstructed the barracks where pilots lived and trained – few exist today and none like you stepped back into the 1940’s.
You’ll recognize quickly that one of the rooms replicates the 1943 bedroom of a 19-year old trainee named George H. W. Bush. The buildings support beams of Florida Eastern Dade County Pine are made of a now extinct tree.
For more recent American history you might want to visit the small but imposing Museum and Library of the 2506 Assault Brigade in Miami at 1821 SW 9th Street. It is the story of the fatal Bay of Pigs Invasion and all the Cuban-Americans that took part in that event.
There are a number of museums containing ships from American wars. The most impressive is the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum in Key West. The Ingham is the most decorated vessel in U.S. service, the only Coast Guard ship earning two Presidential Unit Citations.
There is an admission charge since this is a non-profit venture to preserve and honor one of the two last remaining cutter ships from World War II.
Every region of Florida has one or more military museums or parks. In the Tampa Bay area, I love the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo. The AFHM houses in its 35,000 square feet of indoor space fully operational tanks, jeeps, and armor, while outside are airplanes, even a replica of Chuck Yeager’s Supersonic Jet Bell X1, which broke the sound barrier.
Join the WWII Troops In France in 1945
One of the more unusual museum elements is the recreation of military environments such as walking through an underground WWI bunker, spying on a Japanese island observation tower, and creeping along a French street after the Normandy invasion.
It is a great family experience to visit Florida’s military past.