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
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.
The 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 Gatewood’s
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 I’ve
cried. This couldn’t be more descriptive of Joe. He
always said he wanted to land one more time, just not at night.”
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 I’m most proud of.
Going to the cemetery is one thing, but this is special. I think he knew he
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 we’ve been open, we’ve
collected so many of these. This new exhibition gallery really gives us a
chance to tell those stories.”
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.
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
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
first democratic election.
“So you had two
Mississippians as the governors of Baghdad back-to-back,” Daniels said.
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.
great,” Earl said. “You see a little bit of it all. There’s
a lot of scenery and good details about it all.”
prohibited the opening of the World War II gallery with the rest of the museum,
but will open soon.
“We’re going to come back
to see the World War II exhibit,” Earl said.