As you tour Largo’s Armed Forces History Museum, it’s hard to envision that the massive collection existed for 10 years as a mobile unit. Since moving into its 50,000-square-foot home in 2008, the collection has grown even larger, filling 20 vignettes with vehicles, uniforms and memorabilia related to U.S. military actions throughout the last century. After you’ve seen the displays, stage your own reconnaissance mission on the museum’s motion simulator or reserve a seat in its WWII armored vehicle.
Displays of Weaponry and Moments in Combat
Start your tour in the Salute to Services exhibit, where uniforms dating as far back as the Civil War represent every branch and various ranks, and a miniature train runs around a scaled-down Marine Corps base.
From here, venture into the (decommissioned) arsenal that is the museum’s Firearms and Ordnance exhibit. Viewed in relation to each other, the bayonets, machine guns, mines, hand grenades and mortars – alongside experimental and prototype pieces – show the evolution of weaponry.
While the uniforms and firearms reveal select elements of American armed forces history, the majority of the museum’s exhibits present comprehensive snapshots of specific moments in battle. The vignettes are moving, and yet created to be suitable for all ages: Make your way through a full-sized trench filled with smoke and the sounds of WWI combat; view actual footage from Pearl Harbor and replica war ships; hear live audio from Iwo Jima survivor John Residence, a Marine; see a replica of the Normandy church where Private John Steele was captured by the Germans (and later rescued by the U.S. Army); check out the ambulance at the centerpiece of a re-created army field hospital. All told, the vignettes tell these stories and more through audio/visual clips, vehicles and re-created scenes, as well as photos, maps and other supporting artifacts – including a uniform that belonged to Saddam Hussein.
A quiet counterpoint to the scenes of battle and heroism is the memorial walk and garden. Located on museum grounds, it’s dedicated to past and present members of the U.S. armed forces.
Motion Simulator and M8 Rides
With all you’ve learned from the museum’s exhibits, hop on its seven-passenger motion simulator. The simulator combines video animation with movement in several short experiences including “Seahawk” (Iwo Jima recon), “Desert Storm Strike” (a seek-and-destroy mission over Iraq) and “Barnstomers,” in which you play the part of a 1920s stunt pilot.
Step out of virtual reality into a real WWII reconnaissance vehicle, the museum’s M8 Greyhound. Call ahead for reservations and pricing to ride in this restored armored car equipped with period accessories including a cannon and machine gun.