If you happen to be in Naples — Naples, Florida, not Naples, Italy — and you like antiques, military collectibles or history, you should stop by Homer Helter’s Antique & Military Mall, 5510 Shirley Street, Naples, Florida.
Homer’s buys, sells and trades. Located in an small industrial park, from the front it just looks like another warehouse. But you enter a large room that doesn’t look like it could hold another antique. And then you move into another room, and another room, and another.
Then one passes through a door with a bomb above it labeled Homers Military Collectibles into even more rooms packed with everything from grenades to uniforms and books to ribbons. Homer bills it as the “Largest Military Store In Florida,” but it is hard to imagine there is anything larger anyplace else.
It is not a museum, and probably only Homer could tell you why it is laid out as it is. But the entire place is worth a visit just to see what you might find around the corner.
Homer also regularly hosts barbecues for veterans. I’m told they are usually relatively small affairs, but when I visited last weekend, it was packed. He was hosting veterans, policemen, firemen and EMS responders.
He is also supporting the construction of a 9-11 memorial in Naples. One of the promoters brought a trailer with a piece of the World Trade Center, and a City Councilman spoke saying the city was offering matching funds for the memorial.
I chatted with Dick Williams who was at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Dick said he hurt a tooth on a seed in his food, his face swelled up so bad he couldn’t see to shoot, and he was sent to the rear. After the dentist pulled his tooth, he was to be sent to the front line but the swelling hadn’t receded, so he went to a medical tent to wait and while there asked for some dry socks. When he took off his boots, they discovered his feet were frozen. He couldn’t go back into battle. He thinks that seed might have saved his feet and his life.
I sat next to another old fellow named Dick. This one went into the Eighth Air Force during World War II at the age of seventeen. We chatted a little. He didn’t have much to say but was pleased to have been on an “honor flight” to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial. The Eighth attacked deep into Germany and suffered more than forty-seven thousand casualties with more than twenty-six thousand dead. It was one of the most dangerous assignments in the military.
Homer said he would have a barbecue at the end of the month for Viet Nam vets featuring his friend whom, he joked, “was a terrible pilot.” His friend was shot down and spent over five years in a North Vietnamese prison along with Senator McKean.
I’ll visit Homer’s place again. There is just so much to see. And Homer’s is worth supporting.