Memorial Day is often referred to as the unofficial start of summer — a three-day weekend complete with pool parties, barbecue and potato salad.
But it began on a much more somber note when, shortly after the Civil War, the graves of fallen soldiers were adorned with spring flowers. Eventually, it became an annual tradition; in 1971, Congress made it a national holiday, a time to pause and honor our nation's war dead.
The folks at the Armed Forces History Museum want to put the memorial back in Memorial Day, and at the same time, offer up some memorable good times, too.
The eighth annual Memorial Day Funfest is slated for Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the museum, 2050 34th Way N in Largo. Billed as the "largest military collection in the Southeast," the museum boasts 50,000 square feet of animated dioramas, interactive exhibits, special audio and visual effects, and military equipment, vehicles and memorabilia.
The funfest price is structured a bit different this year, with an all-inclusive activity admission charge of $10 for adults and $5 for youths 4 to 12. That includes a winding tour of the museum detailing our country's war history, special things to do, and an 11:50 a.m. Memorial Day service.
Youngsters will enjoy navigating a 40-foot inflatable military-style obstacle course as well as visiting the special truck stocked with video games. Also making a debut at this year's funfest is a collection of antique tractors and a World War II Jeep that kids can climb and pretend to drive.
The bounce house, military uniform dress-up station, face painting activity and homing pigeons will return this year. Be sure to snap a selfie with World War II re-enactors and the Bomber Girls.
The Memorial Day ceremony will entail guest appearances by U.S. Rep. David Jolly as well as Largo Mayor Woody Brown, the Largo Police Department Color Guard and trumpeter, a 21-gun salute, wreath laying, veterans from all five branches of service and more.
Food and beverages are available at additional cost.
At additional charge is the opportunity to ride "Mighty," the museum's WWII reconnaissance mini tank vehicle. The cost is $50 for a group of three or four; find a $10-off coupon online at www.maxandmighty.com
"This will be a touching and educational experience for the children," said Cindy Bosselmann, the museum's assistant executive director. "This is a holiday where everybody's out of school and is going to the beach and we want them to remember the reason they can do that is that so many went to battle for us to preserve our freedom — and that many of them paid the ultimate price."