A treasured museum that has been a lifeline for local veterans plans to close its doors. But part of it will continue to serve the Southwest Florida community.

Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library in Cape Coral couldn’t overcome the financial impacts of the pandemic to stay open, as it is set to close its doors Thursday, Oct. 1.

For veterans, the building was much more than a museum. They gathered together for a final luncheon Tuesday.

For 12 years, founders Ralph Santillo and Nick Napolitano gave it their all and now that it’s over, they have one word to sum up how they feel.

“Sad,” Napolitano said.

Together, Napolitano and Santillo made it their mission to preserve military artifacts. Now, they must find a new home for these treasures.

“This is 12 years,” Santillo said. “It’s hard to get this up.”

They must give it up because of the pandemic. The museum closed its doors to visitors, and donations came to a halt.

“When we reopened, we never regained the traffic that we normally would do,” Santillo said.

So they’re packing up. From military uniforms to model planes, everything must go before November when they have to be out of the building.

For veteran Robert LaChance Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library is home.

“I’m just ashamed that they’re tearing this place apart and making this move,’ LaChance said. “It hurts.”

He and dozens of veterans went to give a final salute at their last weekly luncheon. Veteran Geroge Colom was one of the first members.

“We came here, and we said, ‘How are we gonna fill this place up; it’s so big,’” Colom said. “It filled up faster than we thought.”

But it’s not the complete end of an era. Santillo told us he hopes to bring the museum back in another form. And the museum’s foundation will continue to operate as well.

“We need a bus,” Colom said. “We think that’s gonna be our future, a traveling museum again.”

MORE: SWFL Military Museum & Library website