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Posted on Mar 2, 2012 in Carlo D'Este, Stuff We Like

Military History in Sarasota

By Carlo D'Este

Many rooms at the Sandcastle have balconies with views of a superb beach, and the wonderful sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. (Courtesy, Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel)

In late January each year there are two superb military history symposiums held on beautiful Lido Key in Sarasota, Florida. Sponsored by the Civil War Education Association (, they feature some of the top names in the military history business. Over a period of three-and-one-half days (Wednesday morning to Saturday noon) there are a series of lectures and presentations on a variety of interesting military subjects dealing with both World War I and World War II.


The one-day World War I symposium was held this year on a Wednesday for the first time. The World War II program is now in its seventh successful year.

The setting for these two outstanding programs is the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, located on the beachfront facing the Gulf of Mexico. The Sandcastle is an ideal setting, has superb facilities, a long-time friendly, efficient and helpful staff, and great rates for those attending the symposium, which is held at the hotel.

A typical street scene in St. Armand’s Circle (Barbara Ann Weibel/ short distance away is the crown jewel of Sarasota, St. Armand’s Circle, an area of one-hundred thirty superb shops, galleries, ice cream parlors, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, all within easy walking distance of one another. What was once a swampy 150-acre mangrove key called St. Armand’s Circle, was purchased in 1917 by John Ringling, the famous circus mogul, who utilized his elephants to help transform it into the foundation of what today is a unique place in Florida. In the wake of hard times Ringling donated the property to the city of Sarasota until it was developed into what is today a central park (the site of musical performances on the fourth Friday of each month) surrounded by streets that extend outward for a block in each direction like the spokes on a wheel.

Coincidentally, and fortuitously, on the Saturday and Sunday of the week the symposiums are held, St. Armand’s Circle is transformed into a superb annual artisans fair in which hundreds of vendors participate. The quality of their products is first-class and well worth a visit. (For more information about St. Armand’s Circle, see their website at

Among the presenters at both symposiums was Col. Jerry Morelock, USA Ret., the editor-in-chief of Armchair General magazine, who gave two great lectures on Russia’s World War I on the Eastern Front and Myths and Realities of Macarthur’s Pacific War, a candid appraisal of the famous general that included many of the misrepresentations of his generalship.

The head of the faculty, moderator and impresario of both events was Col. Robert J. Dalessandro, USA Ret., the Chief of Military History at the United States Army Center of Military History, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC, and an Armchair General Advisory Board member. Rob also gave a fine presentation on The Baker Commission and the Birth of the American Expeditionary Force.

The other presenters included myself (a lecture on Patton and the formation of the U.S. Army World War I Tank Corps and in the World War II conference the life of one of World War II’s greatest soldiers: General James M. Gavin), Erin Mahan, the chief historian of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Edwin C. Bearss, the historian emeritus of the National Park Service.

This first-time event was well-attended and well-received.

The two-and-one-half day World War II conference featured Jerry Morelock, Dr. Rob Havers, the executive director of the National Churchill Museum, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri; Dr. Roger Cirillo, a World War II historian and the director of the Book Program of the Institute of Land Warfare, Association of the U.S. Army; Bruce Gamble, a former naval flight officer and one of the leading authorities on the air war in the Pacific; noted naval historian, Dr. Craig L. Symonds, former chairman of the History Department, U.S. Naval Academy and now professor emeritus, and Robert F. Baumann, director of Graduate Degree Programs, School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Also joining the program, as he has for several years, was World War II veteran and author of D-Day Survivor, Harold Baumgarten, a rifleman in the 29th Infantry Division, who was wounded five times on Omaha Beach. He was joined by faculty member and former World War II Marine veteran, Ed Bearss.

Looking ahead

On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, the 2d Sarasota World War I Conference will be held at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, followed on January 31 through February 2 by the 8th Annual Sarasota World War II Conference. Jerry Morelock and myself are planning to attend. We hope that some of our Armchair General readers will join us.

For information and rates about either or both symposiums, see the Civil War Education Association website at or contact Bob Maher at Phone: 800-298-1861 or 540-678-8598; Fax: 800-550-1347 or 540-667-2339.