By Tom Hayden
A father’s tribute to his son. Pictures and artifacts of past wars that shook and bonded a nation. Reminders of a revolution and how our country got its start. All can be found and remembered at the new Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum on Del Prado Boulevard in Cape Coral.
The museum was the idea of philanthropist Dr. Carol Rae Culliton, founder of the Gunterberg Charitable Foundation, which generously gives millions of dollars to non-profits each year.
After the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library closed recently, Culliton wanted a place where the memories of past wars and heroes could be remembered and preserved. “I believed the community deserved a place like this,” she said, noting the new museum has no connection to the closed museum.
She found an empty building at 4522 Del Prado that used to be the home of the Carpet Man. The building was the perfect place to display artifacts of this country’s military history. It also gave her enough room to provide meeting space for veterans’ groups of all military branches that were displaced by the other museum’s closing.
She also wanted a place where veterans and others could come to seek mental health counseling, find possible work or housing opportunities, learn CPR, and connect with other resources available in Southwest Florida. This building provides those resources. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office also will have a resource center inside where deputies and staff can connect with residents.
“People have so many different needs here and that was primary for me,” Culliton said. “We wanted to be the place where you could get the help you need, and if we couldn’t provide the specific help, we can send you to the places where you can get the help.
“I am proud of what we are doing. This is definitely a labor of love.”
The museum’s soft opening is set for Nov. 6. A special ribbon cutting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Nov. 10 with the opening of the sheriff’s resource center, a color guard ceremony, the singing of the National Anthem and patriotic music. The celebration continues Nov. 11 (Veteran’s Day) from 1:30-4:30 p.m. with an open-to-the-public picnic, featuring 200 hamburgers and 500 hotdogs, refreshments and entertainment. Museum tours will be available to the public. Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman will present a county proclamation, as will the city of Cape Coral.
The museum’s regular hours will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to until 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
The museum is a physical chronicle of transformative moments in our nation’s history. It features exhibits from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, World War I and II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Gulf wars and wars in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is a tribute to women who have served in the military, as well as a Holocaust memorial. If you want to go way back, there is even a rare dinosaur egg on display.
There is a musket from the battle at Gettysburg, artillery guns, other weapons and ammunition of all types and sizes from each war, a rare collection of military uniforms, aviation devices and an original jeep and bicycle from World War II.
There is World War I aviator’s uniform, paying tribute Capt. Richard Page, the namesake of Page Field. The Missing Man’s table, honoring military members who died, were imprisoned and missing, is on display in the main lobby, with caps from each of the five branches, plus other symbolic reminders.
Three of the most prominent exhibits feature several Purple Heart medals and the names of the recipients, an area set aside to honor the battle at Iwo Jima and tribute to a Cape Coral hero.
The Purple Heart display in the main lobby is especially significant for Culliton. Her husband’s father was a Purple Heart recipient, and their son, Adam, was especially close to his grandfather.
The Iwo Jima display honors the six-day battle that saw U.S. Marines and the Navy capture the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army and the famous raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi.
One of the most stirring displays is for former Cape Coral resident Daniel Eggers, a U.S. Army Capt. and Green Beret killed during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004 in Afghanistan.
The display was moved from the former museum and was created by Daniel’s father, Bill, and his family. There are many pictures and a portrait of Daniel, as well as video showing amazing scenes of the soldier during his time overseas, having meals and many conversations with the Afghan people and his military unit.
Culliton conceived the name Brotherhood of Heroes by combining the heroic accomplishments of first responders and the military. “The police call themselves brothers, as does the military. They are heroes. It was the natural name,” she said.
Culliton’s passion for giving back started at a young age. She was only 13 when her mother died and 18 when her father passed. She had no other siblings. They left her plenty of money. “But I was sad. I had money but no family,” she said. “My parents were very philanthropic and helped build churches in Chicago.”
She was educated by nuns in a private girl’s school in Chicago from first grade through high school. They were her mentors. They taught the young girls to be strong not only in their faith, but also in how they lived. They taught them to be leaders, to strive to achieve and make a difference. “(The nuns) were good and kind and they always believed in you. I grew up believing I could change the world,” Culliton said.
The memories of strong parents and the words and teachings of the nuns set the pathway for Culliton, who knew giving back to community was her life’s dedication. She founded the Gunterberg Charitable Foundation 13 years ago and now gives to 250 charities around the world focused on reaching those in need through providing food, education and various other resources.
Culliton’s life was not about leaving a legacy. She wanted to give but didn’t need to be recognized for it. Now that she has a young grandchild, Charles, that view of life has changed.
“I always want him to know that his grandmom was a good person and wanted to help people,” she said.
She is changing her small part of the world and the museum is another example of her commitment to the community.
If you have items that you would like to donate to the Brotherhood of Heroes, please contact the museum at 239-360-8913.