Armed Forces History Museum combines fun with honor



Workers at the U.S. Armed Forces History Museum will be on a mission Monday to ensure the original meaning of Memorial Day — to honor the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers — is kept alive. At the same time, they'll incorporate what the holiday also has come to symbolize — the start of summer fun.

They'll do this with the Family FunFest. In its sixth year, the program includes activities for those well-versed in military knowledge as well as civilians wanting to spend a leisurely day with the family.

Cindy Bosselmann, the assistant executive director of the tiny museum in a former warehouse off Ulmerton Road, plans to see upward of 1,000 visitors come through the doors.

"The reason we do this is yes, to celebrate the beginning of summer but also to educate and honor those who have served,'' she said. "From our perspective Memorial Day's real meaning can get lost in the shuffle.''

There will be discounted ticket prices for admission to the permanent exhibits filled with war memorabilia including sticky bombs, bayonets, jeeps, tanks as well as an authentic Russian MiG-21 supersonic fighter jet on display at the museum's entrance.

For youngsters, there will be rock climbing, a bounce house and power bungee jumping.

Special guests also will be on hand, including the Bomber Girls, an all-female organization that raises money for military charities, who will reminisce with veterans and their families.

Sandy O'Hara, the 1971 Armed Forces Pin Up for the Vietnam War, will visit in the morning, autographing copies of vintage posters. O'Hara, 67, spent more than 40 years touring with "The Best of Burlesque," a dance and comedy show she created with her husband, David Hanson.

"Back in the 1970s, I decided to start visiting with soldiers because I felt they needed to know that not everyone was against the war,'' said O'Hara, who now lives in St. Petersburg. "We've lost sight of what Memorial Day stands for, and this event at the museum is a good one, especially for children who need to still learn about honoring those who have died.''

Also on hand will be the 1st Infantry Division Re-Enactment Camp, a group of World War II military history enthusiasts who will hold two weaponry demonstrations with rifles including an M1 Garand, an M1 Carbine, and an M1903 Springfield, according to John Thomas, the group's spokesman.

"We'll also set up an encampment, an authentic company command post for visitors to come visit,'' Thomas said. "It's fantastic to interact with veterans' families who otherwise may have only seen things in a black and white photo tucked away in an album. ...

"To actually let visitors see the weapons and uniforms and other items in real life and to be able to feel the texture of the materials make a lasting impression.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.

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