U.S. Armed Forces Museum - Largo, Florida
By Miles Vining
Tucked away along a back road in Logan, Florida is the unassuming U.S. Armed Forces Museum. Not 30 minutes from St. Petersburg, the museum’s presence wouldn’t be noticeable if it weren’t for the billboard on 34th Way North just off of Interstate 275. Driving into the parking lot, visitors will think the building small by looking at the front portion of it. Though the front might appear to be small in size, the building expands in the rear to make room for a number of vehicles and displays. Separated into seventeen sections, the museum tries to tell the story of the United States Armed Forces starting from World War One. There are weapons, displays, and uniforms from before that era, but are few numbered.
Visitors will begin in the front entrance/reception area and will immediately notice the uniform display. Here a number of period uniforms and accessories are on display within walk around glass containers so the uniform in its entirety can be viewed in detail. The next room is the dedicated arms room and apart from the standard arms displayed has a number of interesting pieces. Of special note is the number of anti-tank and rocket launchers on display. Such a variety is rare for a museum of this size and well appreciated with a number of different tubes from various countries.
Moving on, visitors will walk through a complete World War One trench section, with a command bunker and uniform display. This room is darkened and has audio in the background to try to give a realistic feel for the battleground. A good majority of the museum after this is dedicated to World War Two, with the various theaters being represented by different static displays and rooms. The Pearl Harbor and the South Pacific room have a mock-up of a control tower on an aircraft carrier and a representation of Japanese Zeros diving in on scale model battleships. In the far corner were also a guard hut and some displays showing Japanese infantry equipment and weapons used during World War Two. Of special note was a rifle grenade on a Type 99 and one of the training model machine guns that are so rare to find today.
The next displays are of a LCVP being loaded up with Marines off a net and also a submarine periscope that visitors can peer through and view their cars from the roof of the museum, complete with sighting wire and handles. Transitioning into the European Theater of Operations, displays of Utah Beach landing, paratroopers, and a French town being liberated are all very well done and highly detailed. Weapons displays are either integrated with the main displays or are in their own separate sections of the rooms. The World War Two rooms take up almost half the museum, clearly illustrating the social and economic impact the war had on the United States.
One of the most iconic images of the Korean War was of a Marine leading the way over the Inchon seawall during MacArthur’s daring amphibious landing to halt the stalemate at the Pusan Perimeter. The Marine was a 1st Lt. by the name of Baldomero Lopez who was killed shortly after that photo was taken as he was leading his platoon against an enemy bunker by sacrificing his own life. Why show this particular Medal of Honor recipient in a museum encompassing almost 200 years of American military history? Because Lopez was from the local area and the museum is representing a home town hero to bring the reality of the war closer to home.
Right next to the Lopez memorial, are two displays indicative of the war, the landing at Inchon, a MASH field hospital, and the Chosin Reservoir with the Marines huddling around in the snow because of how unprepared they were for the Chinese onslaught and the frigid winter they experienced. Down the line, a number of other conflicts are represented but much less to the extent that World War Two was. Of particular note is the Vietnam section which has a number of vehicles from the Vietnam War and a side hallway that represents a patrol creeping through the jungle with a full combat load. This hallway is hardly lit up at all just like the World War One trench to simulate what the actual environment would have been like to the men fighting and dying in these wars. The Vietnam section also had a video on repeat that showed interviews with various Vietnam Veterans about the war and their experiences. Also of a side note here was an interview with a veteran from the 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment, so notoriously nick named “The Walking Dead” which happens to be the author’s current active duty unit.
There is a whole panel dedicated to Operation Desert Storm but none yet on Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, although these sections are in the planning and development stages. Apart from these large displays, there are a number of miscellaneous items for view to the public that include a virtual flight simulator that puts a visitor in control of a fighter jet, one of the original Ford vehicles used by the Army and a temporary display of bayonets from all over the world. Outside, and around the parking lot are a number of vehicles to include a Patton tank, some radar equipment and a fighter jet in the center of the parking lot.
What is such a treasure trove doing hiding along a highway on the Florida coast? Due to Florida’s good portion of senior citizens, there is also a good portion of veterans in the area. Apart from filling its role as a museum, it has a dining room where any sort of gathering can be reserved, but military reunions are the primary venue. Much of the collection itself was personally donated by veterans in the area cleaning out their war chests to be viewed by a much younger audience. The museum is also a living history participant, taking out some of the vehicles and letting visitors ride in them on specific days. In addition to all these additional tasks, the museum works with schools on tours and interactive teaching tools. So much more than a museum, the Armed Forces History Museum is certainly a community pillar and is certainly worth a visit if a reader should find himself in the St. Petersburg/Largo area.
Armed Forces History Museum
2050 34th Way North
Largo, FL 33771
(727) 539 8371
Active Duty or Veteran: Free
General Admission: Adults $17.95. Seniors 65+ $14.95. Children (4-12) $12.95. Children 3 and under are Free.
Tuesday through Saturday:
10am to 4pm
Sunday Noon to 4pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays
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