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Experience Working Military Vehicles, Dioramas and Full Sensory Exhibits at Largo's Armed Forces Museum

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

It all started with one man's war memorabilia collection, which even today makes up 80% of the Armed Forces Museum's collection. Cindy Bosselmann, Assistant Executive Director, tells us, "At this time, we have nearly 100,000 artifacts and 50 vehicles within 50,000 square feet of space, and we boast the largest military collection in the Southeast."

Somewhere between The Smithsonian and Disney World, as some have said, is the realm of this Largo museum's exhibits. The carefully crafted displays give guests a very real and accurate experience of what it felt like for our military to be in the wartime battled they fought. Of special note is the animated World War I trench filled with gunfire and smoke. "As the double doors are opened into this area," says Bosselmann, "guests are in awe, as it's a full sensory experience as they walk through the trench, take in a plane from above, see a World War I communications area complete with homing pigeons and cases filled with World War I uniforms and rare artifacts."

The Disney World experience comes into play in full force. The World War II M8 Reconnaissance Vehicle ride is one full of action. This exhilarating ride lets you and two others learn what it was like to drive one of these wartime tanks. If you're looking for something even more on the edge, try their Virtual Voyage Simulator, where guests can take to the skies of the same war as you become a fighter pilot in campaigns such as London, Pearl Harbor and Midway.

The F/A-18 Hornet from an aircraft carrier in Desert Storm provides the fun on the Virtual Voyager Simulator ride where you take an almost-real ride through "twists, turns and tunnels of a volcanic ore mine filled with lava, hot gasses and molten rock or launch and recover."

Let's not leave out the impressive dioramas. Intricate dioramas of various wartime scenes are displayed, but there is more planned for the future when funding is obtained. "We are still hoping to build dioramas to reflect Desert Storm, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan; however, vast dioramas such as these are relatively expensive," states Bosselmann.

As a museum, there are plenty of extra education activities for underprivileged Title I schools funded by individual and corporate donations. Bosselman explains, "Our Operation Education program is unprecedented." Classroom learning includes the Duffle Bag Program, where teachers choose a conflict to discuss and a duffle bag full of memorabilia, books and a teaching curriculum is dropped off and picked up at the school at no charge.

Teachers can also opt to have a knowledgeable museum docent come to talk about the conflict. "Our newest program is designed to assist children in learning about core values and characteristics exemplified by the military such as respect, dignity, leadership, sacrifice and more," Bosselmann details. This Mission: It's Possible - Discover Your Inner Hero program has elementary school kids involved in a museum scavenger hunt to locate signs of those values.

The Armed Forces Museum is to remind all of us that "heroes who don't wear capes are worth the find". Have you found a hero in your community?

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