A salute to military history

Photo: James Combs

Be prepared for your patriotic juices to flow when visiting the Eisenhower Recreation Center.

They call it a recreation center.

It could easily pass for a military museum.

That’s because the array of interesting artifacts and photographs spanning World War I through present-day wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will likely broaden a visitor’s knowledge and appreciation of U.S. military heritage.

Uniforms representing every branch of the U.S. military are crisply displayed on life-size mannequins.

A brown Western Union telegram sent during World War II begins with the words, “I Regret to Inform You…”

Original copies of soldiers’ military enlistment papers and discharge papers hang on a wall.

A visit to the Eisenhower Recreation Center in The Villages offers a peek into the past through the eyes of the men and women who proudly served in the U.S. military.

Most of the war souvenirs and memorabilia were donated by Villages residents and are prominently displayed behind glass-enclosed frames in meeting rooms named for military icons such as Gen. George C. Marshall, Admiral William F. Halsey Jr., and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

History buffs, beware. You’ll likely stay for several hours.

Sentimental types, be prepared. You might leave with a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.

“This is an absolutely beautiful facility,” says Joe Ward, a resident of The Villages and retired Air Force veteran who served as an English language instructor for the South Vietnamese in their homeland in 1969. “I’ve been here hundreds of times, but I get goose bumps each time I come in and see something new. There’s a great deal of interesting military history in here.”

The facility, which opened in 2013, also features various photographs of its namesake, Dwight D. Eisenhower, with his wife, Mamie, as well as former President Richard M. Nixon. A model replica of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, basic training platoon photographs, and a knife used in World War I are some of the other artifacts awaiting visitors.

“Even if you were never in the service, you have to know someone who was,” Joe says. “It’s always great to come here with family and friends.”

Eisenhower Recreation Center is located at 3560 Buena Vista Blvd. in The Villages. For more information, call 352.674.8390.