Vietnam War veteran visits World War II museum (includes photo essay)

This photo essay follows Matt Coplan, former US Navy and Vietnam War Veteran, as he visits a World War II museum in Fort Lauderdale. Coplan commemorates those who fought before he committed to serve. Follow along to see Coplan revisiting his comrades’ pasts. 

Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Museum used to be a training station for future pilots. Former President George H.W. Bush used to live at this base for training as a torpedo and bomber pilot in the 1940s.

Coplan visited the Naval Air Museum for the first time in June to remember those who fought for the country. Even though Coplan had never visited the museum before, he knew it was a training station for pilots who flew the Avenger Aircraft.

Coplan carries the POW/MIA badge on his uniform. Those captured or missing are considered prisoners of war (POWs) or given the title missing in action (MIA).

 Coplan is sitting by the museum’s butterfly garden observing the memorial made for Flight 19 which vanished into the Bermuda Triangle in 1945. 

Coplan explains the power of a formidable 3″50-caliber gun mounted on a destroyer, a symbol of naval strength during World War II. Coplan never got the chance to use one, but he is familiar with the machine gun.

Coplan frequently thinks back about his experiences in Vietnam. He hopes to visit the country again one day and often wonder how it would look like without all the destruction.

Coplan likes to visit Hollywood Beach to look back at his life of service as a sailor. He got the chance to enjoy the Pacific Ocean in his time with the Navy when he visited Guam and the Philippines.

Coplan proudly wears his Purple Heart hat. It’s given to those who were wounded in combat with a bamboo bullet.

Coplans earned several honors for serving the country. The left badge is The Vietnam War National Defense Badge, a symbol of duty and commitment. The middle badge was awarded for his service in the Vietnam War. The right badge, a Vietnam War Purple Heart, is a testament to his bravery and sacrifice.

Mafe Navas is a bilingual journalist at Florida International University who specializes in photography and graphic design. Navas enjoys writing, discussing photography, and exploring new techniques in graphic design. She hopes to work in the news industry as a producer in the future. Navas has an associate of the arts degree in communication from Broward College and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media in digital communication and media in Fall 2024.

Norma Flores is a Salvadoran bilingual journalist at Florida International University who is interested in broadcast journalism and international relations. Flores hopes to become a producer, presenter, correspondent or diplomat in the future. She will graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media in digital media and communication with a minor in international relations in Spring 2025.