For immediate release
THE ARMED FORCES HISTORY MUSEUM TO CEASE OPERATIONS ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 29, 2017 AT 4PM
Largo, FL (November 30, 2016) It was announced at a press conference this morning that the Armed Forces History Museum will permanently cease operations on Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 4:00pm.
The museum was founded by the late John J. Piazza, Sr. whose 55-year span collecting military memorabilia ranging from grenades to tanks resulted in the museum’s grand opening on August 16, 2008. Mr. Piazza recognized and honored generations of Americans who sacrificed so much more than their share, including their very own lives. His mission was to ensure that the museum honorably preserved the history and memories of the military and its veterans, as well as to educate youths of the sacrifices made to protect our freedom.
The museum has been operating in the red since its opening. From 2008 to 2011, the museum experienced an annual deficit of nearly $600,000. Thanks to a committed and determined staff who worked diligently on creating new programs, building new exhibits and dioramas, exposing the museum to a wider demographic and geographic reach, expanding educational curriculum, and adding a special events division which acted as much-needed fundraisers, the museum cut the annual loss in half. However, the loss remains as the museum continues with a $25,000 deficit each month. This could be attributed to a challenging location in Largo where the museum cannot be seen on a main road. Rather, the museum is located off of Ulmerton Road in an industrial park inside of a warehouse – not a usual place to find a tourist attraction that can rival others of world-class stature. Additionally, its narrow niche of military history is another obstacle. Albeit critical for Americans to know and understand, it is sadly not of a mainstream interest.
The museum would experience approximately 25,000 guests annually thanks to daily visits, group sales, field trips, private event rentals and special events. With a nominal staff as seen in most non-profit organizations, nothing would have been possible without support from a devoted base of docents, veterans, active military and volunteers whose contributions were immeasurable.
Mr. Piazza’s pledge and passion for veterans, active military and the community were exemplary and extraordinary as he funded the museum’s deficit right up until his all-to-soon passing on October 3 of this year. Due to the lack of funding, as well as the consistent shortage experienced each month, the museum is forced to close its doors.
Even though the museum experienced a loss each month, Mr. Piazza would remain passionate of his core mission to educate youths. Through the museum’s Operation Education program, the museum would provide complimentary admission, a hot lunch and bus transportation for underprivileged children. Thousands of children throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco Counties have benefitted from this free program. Children latched onto the hands of the museum’s docents/veterans as they provided age-appropriate tours and activities. They shared their experiences from being on the front lines of battle, as well as taught youths core values and characteristics exemplified by the military via the use of relatable museum-produced cartoon mascots known as Military Max and “Mighty” the M8, who were designed to be the epitome of heroes.
In an effort to provide children with engaging knowledge of military history in lieu of the subject being offered in the classroom, the museum’s docents/veterans would act as guest speakers in schools. A complimentary duffle bag program was also initiated for all teachers who would be interested in hands-on tangible learning in the classroom. These bags would be filled with military memorabilia as well as teacher curriculum guides. Linda Whitley, K-8 Social Studies Content Specialist for Pinellas County Schools said, “When John Piazza brought the Armed Forces History Museum to Pinellas County schools, he immediately made sure the students would have an appropriate and rich resource in which to learn. We were pleased to help write curriculum for field trips. We will all miss the visits to the museum; many more of us will miss our dear friend and advocate.”
Throughout the museum’s tenure, thousands of veterans would pass through its doors. Some would proudly share their personal histories with their sons, daughters and families. Others sat, reflected and remembered the fallen either inside the museum’s walls or outside at the museum’s memorial walk. Some attempted to find peace, solace and closure in a cathartic way. The museum continued to be a beacon for America’s true heroes.
The museum also played host to numerous military weddings, honorable retirement ceremonies and celebration of life services. The museum was a guiding light to those needing to be surrounded by dignity, nobility and integrity.
Renters would be enticed to hold their private receptions, business meetings, holiday parties and military-themed birthday bashes for children at the museum as they would be able to experience a unique alternative to traditional restaurants, hotels and halls. Celebrating amongst heroes was noted as being one of the biggest attractions in renting the museum.
With the help of the community and invaluable sponsors, the museum would develop a special event series. Annual events included the Memorial Day Family Funfest, the interactive Ride Through History days, the Red, White and Craft Brews Fest, which was always celebrated on Armed Forces Day, and the popular USO Show re-enactments, which took place at the St. Petersburg Coliseum. These events would embody the museum’s core mission and unify its audience by combining entertainment with the subtle teachings of military history. Along with a long list of additional events throughout the year, the museum offered something for everyone of all ages.
To allure constant guest engagement and to provide them with the very best experience, the museum’s dioramas and exhibits were interactive and enveloped all the senses. Additionally, a WWII M8 reconnaissance vehicle ride, the virtual voyager simulator ride, the Blazing Angels video game, and the opportunity to step up to the cockpit of a Russian Mig jet, as well as peering through a submarine periscope, transported guests back in time.
The museum remained multi-award winning and critically acclaimed. It’s local, regional, national and international features included ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX news affiliates, as well as Bay News 9, Tampa Bay morning programs, and networks TLC, the History Channel in America and Italy, and NFL Monday Night Football. The museum was also featured in local and regional newspapers and magazines, as well as national publications USA Today, Recoil Magazine, Sunseeker Allegiant Airlines Magazine, Southwest Airlines Magazine, Travel for Aircraft Magazine, and more. Mr. Piazza and those at the museum have always been humbled by the consistent positive accolades and continue to be grateful to the media and press for providing them with exposure and coverage, which triggered increased attendance.
In addition to keeping the museum alive, Mr. Piazza gave back to the community consistently. His association as the Marine Corps League’s former Commandant of the Morris F. Dixon Detachment 54, his Chairman position of its Youth Scholarship Fund, and as the President of The Injured Warriors Fund of FL, Inc., provided him with numerous opportunities for philanthropy. His involvement in Toys for Tots, providing scholarships to youths, donating items and feeding the homeless via Pinellas Project Hope, and assisting Florida’s injured warriors, were efforts he was wholeheartedly devoted to.
Mr. Piazza was the recipient of numerous awards. He was awarded the prestigious Order of Saint Maurice Civis by the National Infantry Association for his contribution to the community and the military, and the Legion of Merit from the Chapel of the Four Chaplains. The story behind the Legion of Merit is that four U.S. Army Chaplains gave up their life jackets and prayed together when their transport ship, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was torpedoed eighty miles south of Greenland on February 3, 1943. The chaplains came from different faiths and backgrounds. He was also recognized by Army General Norman Schwarzkopf and Senator Bill Nelson for his work with veterans. Mr. Piazza is owed a debt of gratitude from this nation for his willingness to salute the military in such a huge way. His passion, beliefs and enormously kind heart were unparalleled and felt by everyone he touched. William Cona, Junior Past Commandant Department of Florida Marine Corps League said, “Marine Piazza has demonstrated a significant contribution in support of the Marine Corps League, the United States Marine Corps, the US Armed Forces, veterans, their families, students and those people in need. He represented the highest standard of integrity, moral, character, professional competence and dedication.”
The Piazza family estate, along with the museum’s board of directors, are currently in discussions regarding the future of the museum’s collections. While the closure of the facility is just two short months away, becoming acquired by another organization or the government are still being investigated with all opportunities being considered.
The staff is meeting to create a final day event to show their gratitude and to acknowledge the general public who have been fiercely loyal. Additional information will be released as it becomes available.
For more information on the Armed Forces History Museum, please visit www.armedforcesmuseum.com.