From the start, individual veterans and numerous veteran groups enthusiastically supported the Museum. They generously donated their own personal artifacts and funding; helped build display cases, paint walls and lay carpet; and volunteered as docents.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr., the famed pilot of the “Enola Gay,” the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, agreed to serve as the Museum’s initial honorary chairman, a position he held until his death in 2007. At that point, Sean O’Keefe, a former Secretary of the Navy and former NASA Administrator, took over the role and continues to serve to this day.
Within six years of its grand opening, the Museum had grown significantly in artifacts, financial support, popularity within the community and annual number of visitors, who now hailed from all 50 states and other countries. This led to a move in 2007 to a larger space within Fishermen’s Village that could accommodate the growth. This marked the Museum’s first significant transformation into a more professionally managed museum.
In 2013, the Museum expanded again, this time adding space on the second floor above the exhibit area to provide a conference center (available for rent), a military research library, administrative offices and storage.
As the Military Heritage Museum continued to grow in popularity, it gained a reputation among tourists and the local community as Southwest Florida’s most treasured museum, in large part because of its personal touch. Veterans lead all tours and offer visitors a unique perspective and understanding of key moments in history that cannot be obtained from a textbook.
As of November 2018, the Museum obtained a lease on a new, larger facility in expectation of delivering on the next stage of its vision: the ability to showcase more of its authentic, one-of-a-kind artifact collection and enhance its exhibits and docent-led tours with the latest in video displays, interactive capabilities and touchscreen technologies.
The new facility is expected to open in Spring 2019. The goal, however, remains the same: to honor America’s military veterans, to educate and inspire current and future generations of Americans and to remind everyone that “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
The Military Heritage Museum is a proud member of:
- American Association of Museums
- Florida Association of Museums
- Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce
- Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce
- Arts & Humanities Council of Charlotte County
- Charlotte County Veterans Council
We are also affiliated with the following organizations devoted to veterans, the U.S. military and their causes and concerns:
- American Legion Post 103
- Disabled American Veterans
- Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 82
- Florida International Air Show
- Southwest Florida Honor Flight
- Women in Military Service for America Memorial
- Women’s Vietnam Memorial
- Witness to War
- U.S. Air Force
- U.S. Army
- U.S. Coast Guard
- U.S. Department of Defense
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- U.S. Marine Corps
- U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
- U.S. Navy
- Vietnam Wall of Southwest Florida, Inc.