Are you looking for WWII sites in Orlando because amusement parks got you down? And up and down and up and down again? Well you’re in the right place.
Central Florida played a major part in aviation training during World War II and the evidence is everywhere. Actually, scratch that. The evidence is mostly gone at this point but this part of Florida is still very proud of the role it played in the second world war.
Not to mention, Orlando and the six surrounding counties are home to more than 400,000 veterans. Central Florida is actually the #1 destination for combat veterans with quality VA programs that surpass those of the rest of the country.
In and around the Orlando, Florida area you can still find memorials and museums a-plenty at which to spend some time when you just can’t Disney anymore. Here are 11 of them.
WWII sites in Orlando
Here are three WWII sites you can visit in or near downtown Orlando.
Orange County Regional History Center – Downtown Orlando
The Orange County Regional History Center isn’t a World War II-centered museum specifically, but you can learn about much of the city’s history here.
This museum is four floors that cover all 12,000 years of Orlando’s county’s history. It starts with its geographical makeup and indigenous peoples, up through Spanish expansion and Civil Rights, and includes a few exhibits on the city’s WWII and aviation history.
Here you’ll learn about Central Florida’s role in aviation training and see photos from the area in the era. You’ll be able to check out a handful of WWII artifacts from Orlando history and see the replica WWII B-17 bomber.
Battle of the Bulge Memorial – Downtown Orlando
Just down the path from the Orange County Regional History Center, on the edge of Lake Eola, is the city’s Battle of the Bulge Memorial. (Park once, see two Orlando WWII sites!)
This memorial was dedicated in 1999 and consists of a 6-foot bronze statue of a G.I. in combat gear. On the block underneath you’ll find logos for all the units and divisions that took part in the Battle of the Bulge and a dedication plaque.
On the ground surrounding the statue are names of some of the men who took part found inlaid within a large white star, that’s then surrounded with the flags of the United States, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
Note: Orlando’s Battle of the Bulge Memorial is not on any map I’ve been able to find – so I made one myself. You can find its location in the interactive map at the top of this post.
Central Florida Veterans Memorial Park – Lake Nona
The Central Florida Veterans Memorial Park honors not just World War II veterans, but all those who left this world too early in service of our country.
The memorial overlooks Lake Nona and honors approximately 1,100 veterans from Orlando and the surrounding counties. It’s intended as a peaceful place for reflection for the public and residents of the surrounding assisted living facility.
The memorial consists of one large, main memorial flanked by smaller, more private areas with granite monuments.
Orlando Veterans’ Memorial Park – Lake Baldwin
On the northern side of Lake Baldwin you’ll find the Orlando Veterans’ Memorial Park. This 4-acre park contains beautiful trees and a gazebo created in honor of military veterans from the city of Orlando.
Within this park you’ll find such individual memorials as:
- Fleet Reserve Association
- Italian American War Veterans of the United States
- Purple Heart
- Pearl Harbor Survivors Association
- United States Marine Corps
- And more
WWII museums and memorials near Orlando
Next on the list are some WWII memorials and museums that aren’t in Orlando per se but are all within a one hour-drive from the city’s center.
Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida – Maitland
The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida is located in Maitland, just a 15-minute drive from downtown Orlando.
This memorial and education center contains both traveling and permanent exhibits that work to communicate the history of the Holocaust and the lessons to be learned from it.
The permanent exhibit serves as an overview of the Holocaust as well as serving as a memorial to its victims. It features exhibits like:
- Behind the Bookcase – a virtual reality tour of Anne Frank’s secret annex in Amsterdam (one of only three places in the country where you can do this)
- Displaced Person which traces the Holocaust journey of a Czech Jewish doctor
- War, Persecution, Ghettos, and Camps
- The Final Solution
- Jewish Resistance
- And many more
Museum of Military History – Kissimmee
The Museum of Military History is located just a half hour from downtown Orlando in Kissimmee, Florida. Outside this museum you’ll find a tank, and inside you’ll find military artifacts from every major American war.
This museum covers everything from the American Revolution to the Global Wars and everything in between. However, much of the museum focuses on World War II.
Here you’ll find:
- WWII weaponry
- letters and documents
- and a rare collection of artifacts that’s largely the result of private donations.
You can watch videos, check out the resource library, and browse the gift shop afterwards.
Kissimmee Air Museum
Just a 10 minute drive from the Museum of Military History is the Kissimmee Air Museum—a World War II aircraft museum.
This museum is small but packs a great collection of WWII planes and history on a self-guided tour of the hangar. You can tour the inside of a B-17 Flying Fortress, check out many other historic aircraft, and even fly in a WWII-era plane yourself.
McTureous Homestead and Museum – Altoona
An hour from downtown Orlando (57 minutes if you want to get technical) is the McTureous Homestead and Museum in Altoona, Florida. This museum is located in an early 19th-century home—the boyhood home of U.S. Marine and WWII Medal of Honor recipient Robert M. McTureous, Jr. who died fighting in the Battle of Okinawa.
Many of McTureous’s medals and other personal items are on display in this museum. (However, his Medal of Honor is on exhibit at the Lake County Museum in Tavares, Florida.) There’s also a memorial dedicated to Pvt. McTureous near the home in McTureous Memorial Park.
NAS Sanford Memorial – Sanford
The Naval Air Station Sanford was established in 1942 after the U.S. Navy expressed a need for additional naval air training facilities. In its 25-year existence, NAS Sanford trained around half of all the Navy’s carrier-based bomber and fighter pilots.
NAS Sanford Memorial Park was officially dedicated in 2003 and is located at the entrance to Orlando-Sanford International Airport (the location of the former Naval Air Station Sanford).
Here you’ll find a small park with memorials and historical markers detailing the history of the area’s naval aviation and a fully restored RA-5C Vigilante aircraft.
James H. Mills Memorial – Lakeland
The James H. Mills Memorial is located within Veterans Memorial Park near the Lakeland Center. James H. Mills was one of seven Florida residents to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II and the only one from Polk County.
The memorial to him was dedicated in 1998 and consists of a 14-foot tall marble structure containing a bronze plaque.
Lt. Gilmore Memorial – Clermont
Just over half an hour from downtown Orlando is the Lt. Gilmore Memorial in Clermont, Florida. To get there, park in the designated parking lot at Lake Louisa and follow the boardwalk to the beachfront area where you’ll find the memorial.
The Lt. Gilmore Memorial is a 6-foot granite monument that was dedicated in 2001 to Army Air Force Lt. Dean R. Gilmore. Gilmore flew 29 combat missions over Italy and Africa and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during World War II. He died after crashing his plane into Lake Louisa on his 23rd birthday while leading a training flight.
Along with the monument, there’s also an interpretative display along the boardwalk where visitors can learn more about his life.
More info for visiting WWII sites in Orlando
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