A blast from the past

Military Museum in Green Cove a treasure trove of Florida artifacts

By Don Coble don@opcfla.com
Posted 1/20/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Thousands drive by it every day, often noticing the massive LARC-LX amphibious vehicle parked close to the roadway or the five-inch 38 caliber gun positioned a few yards …

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A blast from the past

Military Museum in Green Cove a treasure trove of Florida artifacts

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Thousands drive by it every day, often noticing the massive LARC-LX amphibious vehicle parked close to the roadway or the five-inch 38 caliber gun positioned a few yards away.

But tucked behind huge oak trees is an old Quonset hut crammed with artifacts from of the most remarkable military artifacts ever assembled, dating back from Florida’s first soldiers, the Spanish Conquistadors to the men and women who fought in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

More important, every piece of memorabilia comes with a story.

The Military Museum of North Florida, located on 1 Bunker Ave. along State Road 16 at Reynolds Industrial Park, is more than an exhibition hall of old guns and military uniforms. It’s a kaleidoscope that tells the story how Florida evolved from a swampy conclave of European explorers and Indians to the thriving state that mixes an outlook of culture and vision with an appreciation for its past.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur once said: “The soldier above all others pray for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” The Military Museum currently is updating and remodeling its exhibits to show the arms and sacrifices of both sides of war.

Displays that were put on tables now have been divided into sections that start with the earliest recorded days of the state to the present. Uniforms have been put on mannequins; patches and weapons have been mounted on display boards, complete with old photos and descriptions. More important, displays now are enclosed in glass-covered cases to preserve the integrity of the keepsake – and to provide a three-dimensional view.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work in here the last year,” said Cooper Goodnight, a 16-year-old volunteer who serves as a tour guide. “Right now, they’re up to the Korean and Cold wars. It’s really amazing who much this place has changed.”

Goodyear has emersed himself in military history. He knows the names, descriptions, benefits and drawbacks of every weapon and battleplan on display.

Military and history enthusiasts will be impressed with the changes at the museum during this Saturday’s F6F Hellcat 10km/30km/50km race. For more information on the annual event, visit wwwhellcatrace.com or crodatz@bellsouth.net or call Chris Rodatz at (904) 655-6511.

The museum is located on the same grounds as the Naval Air Station Benjamin Lee Field. The base was the main training center for the Hellcat World War II fighters, which Goodnight said were considerably less effective as a fighter than the Japanese Zeroes.

“The one thing the Hellcat had, though, it was heavily armored where the pilots sat,” Goodnight said.

Those who served at Benjamin Lee Field include Roy Geiger, who was born in Middleburg and was the first Marine Corps general to lead an Army-sized force, television celebrity Ed McMahon and Joe Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy.

The museum is open Thursday-through-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to maintain and update the thousands of exhibits.

There are exhibits from Spanish Florida, Indian Wars, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War and wars against ISIS and Taliban terrorists.

Along with the amphibious vehicle and big gun, there’s a collection of military vehicles from the Korean era through the Vietnam era outside the Quonset hut, as well as airplane parts recovered from the swamps around the old airfield.

While business is steady during its regularly-schedule hours, Goodnight said the museum is very busy during special events, including the Fall Show and Swap Meet from Feb. 19-21. The event includes a battle re-enactment on Feb. 20-21 at 1 p.m., rides in a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter and weapons firing at dusk.

To register a display for judging, visit www.flmvpa.org.

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