The Southwest Florida Military Museum, home to all manner of paraphernalia depicting the contributions of American servicemen and women, has moved again, but this time its new location remains inside Edison Mall.
The museum, originally opening in Cape Coral in 2009, had difficulties paying for its space in 2020 due to the pandemic but found a home at the Edison Mall when it was offered a reduced rate for use of the old Disney store.
After operating there for almost two years, the mall moved the museum next to Dillard’s when a major chain planned to move in to the old House of Mouse.
The museum’s planned October 4 grand re-opening was postponed due to Hurricane Ian but got underway last week just in time for Veteran’s Day.
Mayor Kevin Anderson of Fort Myers, in a rededication of the museum at its grand re-opening, said he had a duty to be at the re-opening.
“I’m a veteran myself, so obviously I support anything to do with the military and veterans,” he said. “This museum is a tribute to the greatest fighting force the world has ever witnessed, the United States of America military.”
Anderson, who enlisted in the Army in 1976, said he appreciates that the museum has been resilient and resourceful over the years and that people cannot lose sight of what the military does for this country.
“We have some very dedicated men and women who sacrifice it all for this country and our flag,” he said. “Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.”
“It is only fitting that today, November 9, 2022, at the Edison Mall in Fort Myers, Florida, in one of the best regions in the best [and] the freest state in our union, we celebrate this museum,” Anderson said.
Cape Coral’s own General James Dozier also spoke. In 1981, Dozier was kidnapped and tortured for 42 days by the Italian Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist guerilla group.
“I think it’s important that we remember our history, and museums help us do that,” Dozier said. He added that the museum was “preserving our heritage and illustrating that America really is exceptional.”
Missi Lastra, president of the museum, is pleased with the new location Edison Mall has given the organization.
“What they did was they really just kind of made sure to get the best opportunity for us and really moved heaven and earth to get us down here to this new location,” she said. “We couldn’t [have events] at the other location because it was on the main drag of the mall.”
The mall has also given the organization the ability to paint murals at the entrance leading to the storefront.
Lastra said it was important to open the museum before Veterans Day, especially since Lee County has cancelled Veterans Day parades due to Hurricane Ian.
“I want to say that honoring our veterans by preserving this history and educating our children [and] our community on that history is our mission,” Lastra said. “Honor, preserve, educate, that’s our mission.”
Denise Wood, the vice president and event coordinator, said the museum was limited in the old location because it was in the center of the mall.
“It’s actually better for us because we have an area outside [of the shop] that we’re going to be able to have cafe benches and stuff right outside of our front door…so we can have coffee and doughnuts with the veterans,” Wood said.
“I think it’s going to end up being a better thing for us because they’re letting us use their space that they put Santa and the Easter bunny,” she said, adding that the museum would only use it when the mall has nothing scheduled.
The museum had a 30,000-square-foot building in Cape Coral before moving to the mall. It has since spread its exhibits and artifacts throughout different Lee County museums, Veterans Affairs offices, the Shell Factory and three schools.
Charley Valera, author of “My Father’s War,” was also at the re-opening. He has lived in Cape Coral for five years and said he has frequented the museum in each of its locations.
“My first stop when we moved in was the military museum,” he said. “I’m glad that people can get a glimpse, a snapshot of what it was like at every [armed] conflict.”
The museum displays United States military artifacts from the 18th-21st century.
Amanda Mitrani from Cape Coral had never been to the museum before and said she found the event on Facebook.
“There’s a lot of great memorabilia,” she said. “There aren’t [many] firsthand accounts anymore, so it’s really important that there are people that are carrying on these soldiers’ stories and firsthand accounts so that we can keep them alive.”
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