- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby has reopened, 15 years to the date it first welcomed visitors.

Camp Shelby grounds worker Paul Young remembers when the museum launched on Oct. 27, 2001. The 68-year-old says the exhibits consisted of a few military issue pots and pans and other old items.

Young brought his wife, museum board member Celeste Young, for Thursday’s grand reopening.

“We remember when it was an old warehouse,” he said. “Now, it’s spectacular. It’s the best I’ve seen, and we’ve been to Petersburg; we’ve been to Richmond. The quality of the displays is phenomenal.”

Celeste Young said the museum would do much to positively promote the military.

“I think in today’s climate, with the way the military’s being viewed, this is a wonderful thing because the military is being honored,” she said. “I recommend anybody to come here because it will stir their hearts and pull their strings.”

The facility had been closed since February 2015 for expansion and installation of new exhibits, covering everything from the War of 1812 to World War I and the Korean War to the global war on terrorism. The World War II exhibit is scheduled to reopen Dec. 10.

The Hattiesburg American reports (https://hatne.ws/2e1SWB9 ) the 20-month, $2 million renovation added more than 6,000 feet of exhibit space and a center courtyard was enclosed to create the new grand hall.

The Youngs were among a crowd of about 100 who turned out for the reopening and to hear Gov. Phil Bryant speak.

“I have been to military museums from New Orleans to Washington, D.C.,” Bryant said. “There are none finer than that which we will visit today here at Camp Shelby in the great state of Mississippi. For that, we should be proud.”

Museum Director Chad Daniels said a few of the old treasures are still left, but they’ve been upgraded.

“We did retain the World War I trench from the previous museum as well as the Vietnam medical evacuation scene with the helicopter,” he said. “These have all been enhanced with all new stories attached to them so it’s like a whole new experience.”

Daniels said the expansion and remodeling have given the museum a new mission.

“We’ve moved from the development stage to the programming stage, so you’ll see more traveling exhibits come to visit here as well as big public events that are held here and events we produce that go around the state,” he said. “With what we’re doing right now, the popularity of the museum should go much higher because we’ll have more of a presence in the community.”

He also said one of the museum’s additions include “adding the personal stories of Mississippians who served in the various conflicts.”

“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 these stories.”

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

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