The expanded Brevard County Veterans Memorial Center Museum officially opened its doors on Veterans Day (November 11) just last year in 2016. Over the past four months, the museum has seen more than 6,000 visitors, sold over $10,000 worth of merchandise, and added 15 volunteer docents to their staff. The 6,000 square foot, 2 story addition to the original center includes a 3 story observation tower overlooking the park property, and over 5,000 military artifacts covering the Revolutionary War through the War on Terror. Special projects coordinator Donn Weaver stresses the importance of the museum’s presence in Brevard county, wanting the main focus to be educating today’s youth on American war history.
The museum was funded by a grant request to the state of Florida in February of 2015. The 1.5 million dollar allocation came with one condition: the structure had to be completely built within one year of receiving the money. With permits delaying construction for the first 6 months, the clock was ticking for the Ivey Construction Co. to finish in less than half a year. Miraculously, they pulled it off, making the museum the largest completed project in the shortest amount of time they had ever done.The park itself was a 1 million dollar investment, which features 82 acres of land on the bank of Sykes River and 4 bodies of water open to the public for fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Park goers can also enjoy a 1.5 mile paved walkway secluded from Island traffic behind a dense treeline, and a full playground with covered picnic tables.
With renovations finally finished, Weaver also wanted to highlight the three special programs the Veterans Memorial Center (VMC) is currently participating in. On July 15, all are invited to a welcome home celebration for the 1st Battalion/124th Infantry soldiers known as the Cocoa Armory ‘Black Rhinos.’ There is an expected 400 family members attending the ceremony and afterwards picnic, as well as up to 1,000 community members.
Additionally, the center participates in the Veteran History Project (VHP). In 2000, The United States Congress established the VHP as part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Their objective is to preserve the first person accounts of American war veterans, so that younger generations can better understand the realities of war. Anyone can submit a video at least 30 minutes in length interviewing a veteran about their service experience. the VHP has documented records from every war from WWI to the Iraq War, information that would have otherwise been lost in history forever. The Veterans Memorial Center has contributed interview videos from 83 vets to have their stories on record at the library, some of whom have passed since the interview was taped. Weaver mentioned, “less than one half of one percent of the American population is serving in our military, as the years go by, today’s youth have less and less connection with our vets and active servicemen.” He hopes to change that outlook by continuing to participate in the VHP, so that younger generations will take interest in American war history, especially by establishing connections in their own family.
The third program the VMC is participating in is the Brevard Veterans Back to Class Campaign (VBC), done in conjunction with the Joe Foss Institute. Children of every grade and age can experience live testimonies of veterans right in the classroom. Run entirely by volunteers, vets from every war from WWII to the present have spoken; in 2016 alone they attended 19 different schools and spoke to over 6,000 students about their personal service experience. Educating today’s youth as a top priority of the Veterans Memorial Center cannot be stressed enough, and Weaver would love to add to the 17 current speakers that go to the assemblies; any veteran is welcome to join the program.
With the museum up and running in full effect, Weaver said there’s no excuse not to stop by and take a walk through history on their free tours. The center is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 4pm, and Sundays from 12pm to 4pm. The museum gift shop is open to all visitors as well, with all purchases of souvenirs and military memorabilia supporting the museum operations for Brevard veterans. For any veteran related needs, the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center and Park provides many services including emergency relief, and support by Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 123. Last year, DAV/123 served over 3,500 veterans and their families. The VMC also has extensive community ties, any vet in need is a vet they are willing to assist. The center is run entirely on volunteers, anyone is welcome to be apart of their programs whether they are a veteran, active service member, military spouse, or someone who is simply passionate about their causes.
Take a tour, visit their historical library, monument plaza, or stunning park at 400 South Sykes Creek Parkway on Merritt Island any day of the week!