A war Museum (Miami Military Museum) is coming next to Zoo Miami and the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. Why a war museum? If you have ever visited the WW II War Museum in New Orleans you will know why. I could spend days there but my fellow historian limited me to only one. There is so much to see and do there, and if you are a war buff as I am, you would find it absolutely captivating.
Why all my interest in war and especially WW II or the “Good War” as Studs Terkel wrote about it. Of course, there is no such thing as a “good war” but WW II was in fact good for America. Yes hundreds of thousands gave their lives for our country, but we were never bombed or invaded in our homeland and the war put millions of people to work and pulled us out of what would have been economic disaster.
Our country was as unified and patriotic as never before of after. There was no “Hell no, we won’t go.” Everyone who was able went to war either by volunteering or through the draft. There was no question in anyone’s mind that we were the good guys and the enemy deserved to be destroyed.
Unfortunately, I was too young to become a part of the “Greatest Generation,” something I would have been very proud of. Living through that era as a child was a tremendously exciting experience. I remember bringing small change to school each day to buy savings stamps that eventually would accumulate enough to buy a war bond.
Back then when everyone smoked, the streets were littered with discarded cigarette packs. We would gather them up, soak the inner silver lining in hot water until it separated from its paper backing and then roll the metal into a ball that you could turn in to the local scrap drive along with your mother’s old pots and pans and empty tin cans.
Nothing went to waste. If you accumulated enough scrap you might even get into the movies for free and watch Don Winslow of the U.S. Coast Guard attacking German submarines.
When you walked down any street you would see little flags with a blue star hanging in just about every window. It meant that someone in that household was serving our country. On occasion you would see a gold star that meant someone had given the ultimate sacrifice. Silly as it was, I envied those with the gold stars. We only had a blue one.
There wasn’t a kid in any neighborhood that couldn’t identify a P-47 or a B-24 flying overhead. If someone in your family was too old to serve in the military they became “Air Raid Wardens” and would patrol the streets during blackout drills to make sure that everyone had all their lights shut off and that the street gas lights were turned off as well. The wardens had to have training too and were given stirrup pumps to help put out the fires from incendiary bombs. Every family had a gas mask and I went several times to the tear gas drills to learn see how they were used. That was my first experience with tear gas.
Autos had black tape over the headlights allowing only a tiny strip of light to pass through, again to prevent the enemy bombers from targeting our towns. There was a huge amusement park by the ocean near where I lived. It was quite an experience to walk through the park with a flashlight to see where you were going because most everything along the coast was blacked out. You could tell a person’s status by their gasoline sticker. A “C” sticker meant that you were pretty special and entitled to more gasoline than the common “A” sticker
Seeing a serviceman on the street had a special kind of feeling attached to it. You couldn’t help but wonder what action they had seen or were about to see. Soldiers returning all had fabulous stories to tell and souvenirs of the war were everywhere. I wish I had not lost some of mine — a beautiful Nazi dagger, a silk swastika flag, a German bombardier’s jacket — all gone and probably worth a fortune now.
The young men that served during that war, whether at Iwo Jima or Normandy are fast disappearing and the stories that they have yet to tell will soon be gone. This museum will help to keep these wonderful memories alive for us, our children and grandchildren to remember.
The building itself is being totally rebuilt from its origin as a headquarters for submarine patrols during the war. It is a painstaking task and, of course, in need of funding from both the county and the federal government. A letter to Miami- Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez with a copy to: The Military Museum & Memorial of S. Florida, 1825 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Postal Mail Box 367, Coral Gables, FL, 33134, might help this dream become a reality