Patriotism runs in my family.

My husband has two Navy SEALS in his family, my father was in the Army, my uncle was fighting with the Navy during World War II and my oldest son is currently serving in the military. So every time I have a chance to pay my respects to the men and women who have served this great nation, learn more about their experiences or do both, I jump at the opportunity.

The Southwest Florida Military Museum in Cape Coral is truly a treasure, and it is right in our backyard. It was first formed as an outreach to local veterans in a small storefront in 2009, but as the collection of military artifacts, books and papers began to grow, they moved into a large 34,000 square-foot facility.

It is now the largest military museum in Southwest Florida, covering all American wars and conflicts, as well as many other important events in our country’s history.

When I first walked into the museum, which is actually housed in a former grocery store, five volunteers greeted me. One handed me a booklet which gave detailed explanation on most of the artifacts that were in the museum. It proved to be very helpful as I explored the massive collection of military memorabilia.

As you make your way clockwise around the museum, each section is numbered and labeled according to which conflict or event is being represented. For instance, the first section was about the Revolutionary War, so all the artifacts were labeled and explained in the book as 1-A, 1-B and so on.

One of the largest sections represented is for World War II, which I was very pleased to see. In my job, I have had the pleasure of interviewing many World War II veterans and let me just say, there is a reason they are referred to as “the greatest generation.” The most fascinating artifact I saw in this section? A box of Nazi Christmas ornaments, of all things. That display had the apt caption of, “The Nazification of Christmas.”

There is also very nice 9/11 tribute to all the brave men and women who lost their lives on that fateful day, and a library that contains over 4,800 military nonfiction books, manuals, and yearbooks.

Though my entire walk through the museum was emotional, I was most moved by a display up near the front that was created by a grieving Cape Coral father. CPT Daniel E. Eggers, a Green Beret who was serving in Afghanistan, was killed in 2004 at the age of 28. His father, Bill Eggers, is a Vietnam Veteran who donated the display that shows some of his son’s achievements, as well as photos and streaming videos of him.

As the Elton John song “Daniel” played behind the video, I felt this parent’s pain. But I also felt gratitude—for the sacrifice of this young man and the others who have lost their lives in service, for my own son’s choice to join the military after college, and for the privilege of living in this great country.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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