Over the last several years I have had the opportunity to attend a variety of military and “living history” museums. One of the former is the American Heritage Museum with one of the latter being the Massachusetts Military History Exposition. Both of these organizations are located in Massachusetts and each offer a unique experience in military history both static and living.
On Saturday the American Heritage Museum hosted a tank demonstration weekend. Seeing the M4 Sherman, M24 Chaffee, M26 Pershing and others in action was truly a unique experience. As I’m currently reading Normandy ’44 by James Holland, I was imagining these tanks in great battalions doing what we only read about and seeing from film reels taken at the time. The event also featured two WWII veterans offering their firsthand experiences to attentive audiences.
There was a moment when I was listening to the veterans experiences when several tanks were driving behind them in the near distance. It was in that moment, coupled with them talking about the sheer number of planes, tanks and soldiers involved in WWII, when you could almost visualize what it may have been like. Of course, I will never know what that experience was like. But that’s what makes these types of events so important — we experience, learn and never forget.
On Sunday I attended the Military History Expo produced by the Massachusetts Military History Exposition. If memory serves, this was my first “living history” military museum that I attended. Dan and Missy Eaton, who produce the event, always do a masterful job at incorporating a variety of experiences for the visitor.
When you first arrive you see the encampments featuring reenactors from various points in military history. From the American Revolution to WWII and beyond, the enthusiastic reenactors discuss the place in history they are representing and portraying. Adding to the experience are the various events programmed throughout the day. This weekend, there were discussions about uniform styles, weapons demonstrations, artillery firing and ending with a WWII battle in the field. There’s no question you arrive enthused, and leave having learned or experienced something new.
For me, I always find the “communications tent” a fascinating experience. Reading about the enormity of the Normandy landings (Operation Overlord) and learning how communications were built as the fronts advanced is nothing less, in my view, than a miracle of organization and determination.
It is through events like this where we learn what caused the conflicts that created such a history. They say that if we don’t learn from history, it has a habit of repeating itself. Sadly, that repeat came in February when Russia invaded Ukraine. While I theorized about just such a conflict in First Signal, I could not have imagined that in the 21st century there would not only be a war in eastern Europe, but one that has taken on the complexion of the atrocities we saw in WWII.
“Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses -because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force WWII 34th President of the United States
Shortly after I completed First Report, I knew it was time for a holiday. After six months of intense research and writing, it was time for a reset! No sooner did a finish my last blog post than I found myself on Expedia booking a trip to Tampa, Florida. While I love the ocean, I’ve never been someone that can plant themselves on a beach all day looking longingly at the horizon for the answers to life. No, I need a holiday that inspires me (I also have family in the region that I was looking forward to visiting).
Suffice to say I found plenty of inspiration with my visit to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. This is a museum that I’ve been wanting to see for some time. When I visited the region last year, I simply couldn’t get tickets as they were sold out weeks in advance. But the wait was well worth it.
The surrealism around Dali’s work is nearly impossible to explain as each work yields numerous messages, meanings and emotions. They way he looked at life and transposed those thoughts to art is really something to see. While I’ve toured many museums, this is the first time that I made three trips around the galleries to take in the collection. One thing not to miss are the student artists that study surrealism at the museum. Their work is a must see and wonderfully on par with the world of Dali.
Whenever I travel to a new destination, I always look to see what museums might exist around World War II. The American Victory Ship and Museum answered that search. This was my second visit to this storied vessel that saw service in the Pacific Theater at the end of World War II along with the Korean and Vietnam war. What’s unique about the American Victory is that she is a fully operational seaworthy vessel that still sails a couple of times a year.
We’ve all heard about the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. But while the “Greatest Show on Earth” looks like it’s being retooled for a 2023 comeback, a visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art “The Ringling” is a must see if you are in the region. From the history of the circus world, to the galleries of European paintings, the Ca’ d’Zan (the winter residence of John Ringling), the grounds themselves and so much more – plan for a full and exciting day.
My final destination on this trip was something I was looking forward to since my first visit last year – Kennedy Space Center. The moment you walk onto the campus inspiration is everywhere. On arrival you’re greeted with a waterfall monument with words from President Kennedy – “For the eyes of the world look into space, to the moon and the planets beyond….” It’s fitting that such words are framed with the Space Shuttle external tank and solid rocket boosters in the distance.
Seeing the Space Shuttle Atlantis displayed as if she’s in orbit conducting a mission and then a complete Apollo/Saturn V rocket just reminds me of the wonders that NASA has brought to humanity over the decades. These are people that imagined the impossible and then made it possible. We can only imagine what wonders lie ahead.
But the highlight of my entire holiday was the add-on enhancement I purchased with my ticket – Chat with an Astronaut. This casual get-together consisted of approximately ten enthusiasts like me having a group conversation with an astronaut. It was truly an honor to meet Brian Duffy. A veteran of four space flights, he piloted STS-45 Atlantis and STS-57 Endeavour along with commanding STS-72 Endeavour and STS-92 Discovery. This opportunity to meet an astronaut that offered his insight, experience and enthusiasm for the space program, and all its benefits to Earth, is truly an experience I will never forget.