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Ceremony officially closes Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library in Cape

By CJ HADDAD - | Nov 30, 2020

CJ HADDAD Members of American Legion Post 90 retire the colors at the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library for the final time Monday afternoon.

The colors were retired for the last time at the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library Monday afternoon.

Co-founder of the museum and Veterans Foundation Nick Napolitano, along with museum volunteers and local veterans, watched as the flag outside of the large-scale Leonard Street location was brought down and folded, marking the end of the museum’s journey in Cape Coral.

“It’s very emotional for me,” said Napolitano, who co-founded the museum with Ralph Santillo that opened in 2012. “I look back fondly on all of the years we were here, what we did with the community and for the community — and more than anything else, the veterans we assisted.”

Napolitano delivered remarks outside of the museum in a socially distanced ceremony surrounded by local veteran organizations, members of the public and those who played a hand in making the museum the place it was.

“This was an opening where a lot of people received veteran services and would not have otherwise if it wasn’t for this place,” Napolitano said.

CJ HADDAD Co-founder of the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library Nick Napolitano, center, along with museum volunteers say goodbye to the Cape Coral location. The museum has now moved to the Edison Mall.

One local veteran family happened to come across the military museum and Veterans Foundation (operated by Napolitano and run out of the location) that made a lasting impact on their lives.

Missi Lastra, whose daughter returned home from her Army service disabled, said discovering the museum and its services changed their lives.

“We didn’t know what to do, (my daughter) was a mess and we walked into this place and they gave her a game plan on what she needed to do, and everything was so much better after that,” Lastra said. “They helped me fix her when I didn’t know what to do. This place helped veterans every single day.”

Lastra became so involved and impacted by the museum that she served as director for some time.

The museum’s staple event — its Tuesday Veterans Luncheon — brought together various local veterans and organizations, and was a highlight of the week for attendees. 

The Veterans Foundation assists an average of 800 veterans each year by providing essential services that they require. The foundation equips local vets with PTSD counseling, obtaining military records, transportation, bus passes, gas cards, food distribution, career counseling, job placements, free legal advice and other areas that need attention.

The museum has been recognized as an asset to the area, having spearheaded Cape Coral being designated as a Purple Heart City, piloted the veteran banners you see along Cape Coral Parkway and has educated the youth of the region and beyond.

Stepping into the museum was like stepping into a time machine. Relics of past battles, uniforms, flags and depictions of war time canvased the facility.

The museum featured a Purple Heart Exhibit that highlighted Florida’s 360 Purple Heart recipients. Other exhibits accentuated the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

Closure of the Cape Coral location was a result of operations being deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving museum officials unable to purchase the space outright. 

“We had a good run, unfortunately things didn’t work out,” Napolitano said. “One door closes, and another door opens.”

While the museum has left the Cape, it still remains alive at its new location in the Edison Mall in Fort Mers. Napolitano also remarked the foundation will have an office on 46th Lane in Cape Coral in the near future.


– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj