Miami-Dade’s living veterans, family members and county officials paid tribute to those who served their country in World War II during a ceremony on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) at the unfinished Military Museum near Zoo Miami.
It was the first program held within the wooden structure that once served as Naval Headquarters for the Richmond Blimp Base before being moved to a new site on Zoo Miami grounds.
“This day is especially significant because we can now safely open the building for a public affair,” noted FIU’s Dr. Anthony Atwood, executive director of a South Florida Friends organization that supports the project.
Honoring veterans were the VFW’s Joe Martory, Rev. Ernest Rodriguez of St. Timothy Parish, Vice Mayor Ernie Sochin of Cutler Bay, County Court Judge William Altfield, Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason, School Board member Dr. Larry Feldman, Medley Mayor Robert
Martell, County Commissioners Javier Souto and Lynda Bell, State Sen. Dwight Bullard, and U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.
Highlights included a G. Holmes Braddock High School honor guard presenting the colors to begin the program; laying of a wreath by the Cuban American Veterans Association, and playing of Taps by Cyril Bullard of the American Legion.
“It is our responsibility to finish this tribute in memory of those who served so that our children and grandchildren will remember the sacrifice of so many,” said State Rep. Frank Artiles, a former U.S. Marine.
An audience of more than 100 listened to speeches, seated on folding chairs that rested on unfinished 4- by 8-foot wood panel flooring.
Unshaded ceiling light bulbs hanging from overhead wooden rafters and sunshine pouring through newly installed sash windows lighted a first floor speaking rostrum and a U.S. Navy bell, always rung by former Naval Officer Atwood to welcome dignitaries “aboard” for museum ceremonies.
Donated by the Navy Recruiting Command, the bell commanded the attention of Luna and Caleb Cruz, children of Gus Cruz of Kendale who serves as director of Military Affairs Board for Miami- Dade County that marked Veterans’ Day with a downtown Miami parade on Nov. 11 to salute Vietnam service personnel.
Like other visitors, the Cruz children saw the first exhibits that included photo displays honoring vets, flags, service emblems and mementoes, all temporarily affixed to the unfinished wall timbers throughout the main floor.
At one corner, a pile of books, desk, office chair and other materials were stacked where an administrative office is planned. A central concrete block unit bore a pasted sign: “Elevator Shaft.”
Currently, on its new foundation, work is underway to complete finished flooring, sidewalls, exhibition galleries, electrical and plumbing, elevator (ADA compliant), and air conditioning. A memorial garden is planned on the grounds.
The largest historic structure of its kind, ever moved in the State of Florida, the original building was cut from its original foundation, hydraulically lifted on a grid of steel beams that took 96 wheels to move its 700,000-pound weight.
To date, Miami-Dade has spent $3 million to move, rebuild and refinish the structure from ground level up to a new roof over the past three years.
Atwood and architect Richard Heisenbottle continue to guide the museum toward completion through a half-million dollar state appropriation that may open the museum at 12450 SW 152 St. formally in 2014.
Visitors will then see exhibits of both war and peacetime artifacts that preserve the historic roles of Florida military men and women who served their country. For information, visit www.southfloridamilitarymuseum.com.