Hattiesburg museum ready to reopen

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - The African-American Military History Museum will re-open Feb. 6 nearly a year after a tornado caused substantial damage in the Hattiesburg area.

Museum general manager Latoya Norman told the Hattiesburg American reports (http://hatne.ws/1ecZuCH ) that a Black History Month kick-off program honoring living World War II-era veterans will accompany the re-opening.

“We’ll be re-honoring WWII veterans. We honored them in 2010 and we decided to do it again,” Norman said.

Norman said museum officials decided to re-honor the WWII vets because of the building where the museum is housed.

“This building is a WWII-era building,” she said. “It’s a USO Club built for African-American soldiers at Camp Shelby during World War II.”

The USO Club opened on March 22, 1942. It’s estimated tens of thousands of soldiers visited it during World War II.

It is the only surviving USO built exclusively for African-American soldiers. In 2003, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The lobby of the USO Club was open for five hours in October during Hattiesburg’s Mobile Street Renaissance Festival, but the rest of the museum remained closed. Its theater and stage area, the archive room and about 25 percent of the main auditorium where the exhibits are kept was damaged when the tornado ripped away a portion of the building’s roof.

The storm caused about $450,000 in historic building damage and $600,000 in damage to the museum’s components, said Rick Taylor, executive director of Hattiesburg’s Convention and Tourism Commissions.

After the tornado, volunteers from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the University of Southern Mississippi and the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby helped remove documents, flags, medals, enlistment papers and other artifacts so they wouldn’t get wet from the rain.

Now, everything is being moved back into the museum. Experts with Southern Custom Exhibits of Anniston, Ala., are putting the cabinetry, dioramas, murals and exhibits back in place.

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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