Community HQ

The Veterans Memorial Center and Museum

The Veterans Memorial Center and Museum’s collection of military artifacts includes Huey and Cobra helicopters. JEN PRITCHETT PHOTOS

Center serves Brevard’s robust veteran population — and more

This 42-foot-long periscope from a Sturgeon class submarine

This 42-foot-long periscope from a Sturgeon class submarine, a class of nuclear-powered fast attack subs in service until 2004, extends 10 feet above the roof of the museum.

It is a place for healing, for learning, for contemplating, for connecting. It is the Veterans Memorial Center and Museum, the Merritt Island gem that veterans built. “We are the hub of all veterans’ organizations in the county,” said Dean Schaaf, center president.

The more than two acre complex, by the banks of the Indian River Lagoon not far from Merritt Square, is many things to many people — as well as a manifestation of the county’s robust military culture. According to Census Bureau figures, 12.5% of the county’s population — approximately 70,000 residents — are veterans. The facility houses offices for a variety of military-oriented organizations, including the Cape Canaveral chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, the largest in the country. It is also headquarters for community groups, such as Museums of Brevard. In total, 17 different organizations call the center home. 

The local chapter of Rolling Thunder is one of them. “I can’t describe how important the center is to us,” said membership chair Walt Marshall. “I don’t know where our organization would be without their help.” Members of Rolling Thunder are united in the cause to bring full accountability for the prisoners and those missing in action from all wars. Many members ride motorcycles and participate in the county’s Ride for Freedom, which starts at the vet center and draws as many as 1,000 cyclists.

The vet center’s largest tenant, however, is Chapter 123 of the Disabled American Veterans. Thanks to 27 volunteer service officers, including Chip Hanson, who doubles as the center’s chaplain, the chapter is an invaluable resource. Service officers help as many as 100 service-disabled vets a week to obtain benefits they are entitled to but often don’t realize they have, including financial compensation, burial benefits and even free license plates. “It means millions of dollars for the vets and for the community,” Hanson said.

Visitors pause to reflect at a monument dedicated to recipients of the Purple Heart

Visitors pause to reflect at a monument dedicated to recipients of the Purple Heart, a medal given to service members who are wounded or killed in action.


A World War I machine gun.

A World War I machine gun.

Hanson has also officiated at many weddings and funerals held at the veterans center — a popular venue for special events, including monthly jazz concerts hosted by the Space Coast Jazz Society. “It has great acoustics; it’s right by the water; and the guys are happy to help with the setup,” said Gigi Gordon, treasurer of the Space Coast Jazz Society.

The center’s library supports education by sharing its treasure trove of military information. “Our library staff does a monthly, special history presentation, which interested veterans and the public can come in for,” said docent Shaun McKinney. “We have over 5,000 books in our research library that can be checked out for free; a formal Veterans History Project, where veterans can record their personal military history for the library and the veterans’ families and for the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In fact, our fantastic library staff have done nearly 300 of these, and one of those is a surviving Brevard County Medal of Honor recipient.”

Admission is free to the museum, which houses military artifacts from every conflict involving the United States.

Admission is free to the museum, which houses military artifacts from every conflict involving the United States.

A boardwalk and trails attract fishermen, families and walkers. “People fish from behind the building all the time,”Schaaf said. A tiki hut beckons grill warriors, while the playground is a kid magnet. Exercise stations encourage fitness, and a canoe launch welcomes Sykes Creek exploration. Two ponds add even more scenery and habitat.


The museum’s outdoor plaza

The museum’s outdoor plaza includes several monuments and military equipment.

The indoor/outdoor military museum is popular with school groups, tourists and locals eager to learn more about the proud legacy of the armed services. More than a thousand visitors a month explore museum exhibits, which include a piece of the superstructure of the USS Arizona, a Korean War-era tank, Huey and Cobra helicopters, an A-7 Corsair fighter jet and a 42-foot-long periscope from a Sturgeon class sub that extends 10 feet atop the roof of the building. The oldest artifact is a Revolutionary War cannon — part of a monument to the war’s last naval battle, which was fought off the coast of Cape Canaveral. 

The museum’s collection includes military artifacts from every war fought by the United States — and the majority of these holdings cost the museum nothing to acquire. “Most were donated to us, primarily by vets and their families,”Schaaf said. 

Seventy-six volunteers help the one full-time staff member on the payroll. “By having these volunteers, we can stay open seven days a week,” said Donn Weaver, immediate past chair and currently on the board of directors of the Brevard Veterans Council — the group responsible for helping the center become a reality. The Gold Star parent estimates he spends around 50 hours a week doing center-related activities. Weaver is such an indefatigable advocate for veterans that last year, he was inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame at the Capitol in Tallahassee. 

Weaver will undoubtedly be involved in the center’s future expansion and upgrades, funded by the county’s parks department, the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency and the Tourist Development Council. Upgrades will include additional walking and hiking trails, fountains, electricity in the pavilion and a bandshell that will accommodate a crowd of 5,000.

Gordon from the Jazz Society best sums up the center’s appeal: “It is wonderful.”

The Veterans Memorial Center and Museum

The Veterans Memorial Center and Museum recognizes the contribution of all members of the military. A monument honors the servicemen and women who served in Vietnam while nearby another celebrates the courage of military canines.

A helmet from World War I.

A helmet from World War I.

If You Go

Where: 400 S. Sykes Creek Pkwy., Merritt Island

Hours: Plaza and park, dawn to dusk; museum and library, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, 12-4 p.m. 

Information: 321.453.1776 or

A Cobra helicopter is on display.

A Cobra helicopter is on display.


• American Legion Post 344

• American Legion AUX Post 344

• Disabled American Veterans Chapter 123 

• Fleet Reserve Association

• U.S. Coast Guard AUX

• Navy League

• Support Committee, Cape Canaveral National Cemetery

• Museums of Brevard 

• Rolling Thunder FL Chapter 1

• Cape Canaveral Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America 

• Military Order of the Purple Heart, Space Coast Chapter

• Blue Knights

• Courageous Division, Sea Cadets

• Sons of the American Revolution, Brevard Chapter

• Marine Corps League Detachment

• Space Coast Chapter, U.S. Army Officer Candidate School Graduates

• America’s Boating Club of Cocoa Beach

See the original article in print publication

Maria Sonnenberg
professor at Florida Institute of Technology |

Maria is a prolific writer and proofer for Space Coast Living and an adjunct professor at Florida Institute of Technology’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business. When not writing, teaching or traveling, she can be found waging a one-woman war against her lawn and futilely attempting to maintain order among the chaos of a pack of extremely clueless wirehair dachshunds and an angst-driven basset hound.