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Armed Forces Musuem Reopens

A door reopened Oct. 27, welcoming a fallen hero to its shrine of history and knowledge.


A day after Navy pilot Lt. Joe Gatewood was laid to rest, the museum with an exhibit in his name reopened at the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center after nearly two years of renovations.


The Mississippi Armed Forces Museum opened Oct. 27, 2001, reopening on its 15th anniversary after 20 months of renovations that added more than 7,500 square feet of additional display area.

AFM Reopens.jpgThe day before, Joe Gatewood, 76, of Hattiesburg, was laid to rest at the Mt. Olive Cemetery in Mt. Olive, where he was raised. A graduate of Mississippi State, he joined the Navy in 1962 as a pilot with Navy Attack Squadron 212, the “Rampant Raiders,” and flew more than 100 missions over Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Bonhomme Richard (CV-31). He served with the Navy from 1962-1967.


A display at the museum honoring Vietnam-era pilots features the flight helmet and survival knife “Gator” wore during the war, along with Joe Gatewoods picture.


The display was certainly emotional to the Gatewood family. It broke through the barriers Marcia Gatewood, his wife, had erected and allowed her to truly grieve for perhaps the first time.


“I kind of went to pieces,” she said. “This may be the first time Ive cried. This couldnt be more descriptive of Joe. He always said he wanted to land one more time, just not at night.”


Joe Gatewoods son, Lance Gatewood, of Tucson, Ariz., said he will likely be visiting the museum every time he returns to Mississippi.


“This is great,”  Lance Gatewood said. “His service to his country is one of the things Im most proud of. Going to the cemetery is one thing, but this is special. I think he knew he wouldnt be able to make it (to the reopening ceremony), but he got to see some photos (of the display).”


Lisa Gatewood, of McKinney, Texas, said her father would have liked the display.


“He would be tickled about this attention on him,” Lisa Gatewood said. “He was humble.”


“One of the major additions to the museum has been adding more personal stories of the Mississippians who served in the various conflicts,” said Chad Daniels, museum director. “Over the past 15 years weve been open, weve collected so many of these. This new exhibition gallery really gives us a chance to tell those stories.”


Joe Gatewoods display is one of many that chronicles the role of Mississippi Service members from the Revolutionary War to present conflicts.


The $2.3 million renovation project added approximately 7,500 square feet of display area through a public-private partnership.


“The displays inside are absolutely incredible,” said Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, the adjutant general of Mississippi. “There are some things in there that are national-type exhibits that we have right here in Mississippi at Camp Shelby.”


The Armed Forces Benefit Association 5-Star Life Grand Gallery is the largest new addition. It spans 5,000 square feet and provides multi-use space for military ceremonies, civic events, and large-scale traveling exhibits.


Additionally, the Hall of Honor has been expanded to three times its previous size. Mississippi has 27 Service members who have earned the Medal of Honor under the museum guidelines. The Department of Defense recognizes 19, but Daniels said the museums honorees include those born in the state, current residents, long-term residents, and those who may not have lived in the state, but are buried here.


The Hall of Honor is split to also feature Mississippians who did not earn the Medal of Honor, but have significantly contributed to national defense. It will include men such as John Quitman, a Natchez militiaman at the start of the Mexican War, who as a major general led the U.S. Marines assault on the fabled Halls of Montezuma and accepted the surrender of the citadel. Then there are Maj. Gens. Buford Blount, a University of Southern Mississippi graduate who led the capture of Baghdad in 2003 and served as its first military governor, and Jeff Hammond, also a University of Southern Mississippi graduate, who succeeded Blount and oversaw the countrys first democratic election.


“So you had two Mississippians as the governors of Baghdad back-to-back,” Daniels said.


Larger public restrooms have been added to accommodate the increased traffic at the museum. When it first opened in October 2001, the expected amount of traffic was estimated at 20,000 a year.


“We got that in the first three months,” Daniels said.


Earl and Lorna Steadman, of Loxley, Ala., happened to see the museum after the ceremony. They had been visiting military museums on the Gulf Coast and staffers there recommended they visit the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum. Until they arrived, they had no idea it was reopening on the day of their visit.


“Its great,” Earl said. “You see a little bit of it all. Theres a lot of scenery and good details about it all.”


Renovation delays prohibited the opening of the World War II gallery with the rest of the museum, but will open soon.

    “Were going to come back to see the World War II exhibit,” Earl said.

Revised: 1/9/2017 6:01