After Six Years, Laurel Veterans Museum Becoming a Reality

Fri October 10, 2003 - Southeast Edition

LAUREL, MS (AP) The roof is up, along with the steel framework, but there are still two months’ worth of construction work to be done on the Veterans Memorial Museum.

Once the building is completed, the interior work must also be finished. That’s expected to take the rest of the year.

It may not look like anything out of the ordinary, but to the local military veterans and others who have been working for the past six years to make this happen, it’s a dream come true.

“We’ve been watching it day-by-day, hour-by-hour, but it is still hard to believe,” said Jimmy Bass. “I wake up at night and say, ’we are really under way.’ ”

Bass is the chairman of the board for the museum, and usually serves as the spokesman for the group. He is quick to point out that he is just one of many people who have worked to make this project possible.

“We are at this point because of the faithfulness of all these veterans,” Bass said. “Also, some of our hardest workers have been non-veterans, people who were just interested and wanted to help. It is a total team effort. We’ve got some guys who are fantastic at getting things done without a lot of fanfare. They do things without any credit or any reward, and that’s what has done it.”

The museum is set up to not only honor and recognize the veterans in the Laurel-Jones County area, but also those from all of the counties in the Jones County Junior College district: Clarke, Covington, Jasper, Wayne, Smith, Greene and Perry.

It takes money to keep the dream alive. Fund-raisers, gifts and two federal grants totaling $750,000, made the building project possible. The land for the museum was donated by the city of Laurel.

When it first started, the group’s goal was to build a permanent place to preserve the memories of those who served the nation in a time of war. It was envisioned that the museum would serve as a record for future generations.

It also wanted to have a place to store, preserve and display the memorabilia and equipment from times past, such as old uniforms, guns, pictures and magazines.

“Say a veteran dies and the family finds his uniform and medals in a closet,” Bass said. “Usually, they don’t know what to do with it and often it gets thrown away. We are hoping that the family will bring it to us and let us store it and take care of it.”

There have been numerous responses and the museum has displayed many such items in temporary locations.

Currently, the museum display is located just off the main court of the Sawmill Square Mall, but now supporters are getting ready to move into a permanent home.

“We are doing a lot of packing right now,” said Lonnie Richards of the museum staff. “It’s going to take six to eight weeks to get everything set up, once they are finished with the building.”

One item the group is especially proud to have obtained, an old piece of Masonite board, came from the old Gardiner High School. On it are the names of more than 400 former students who served in World War II.

“Whenever a former student went to war, the principal added his name to the list,” Bass said.

The board was taken down during a renovation project a few years ago and given to the museum. Richards said it would be hung with the Jones County exhibit.

Getting the museum building finished and opened is just another step in the project.

“It is going to take money to keep it opened and running for years to come. We are going to start selling memberships,” said Louie Bond, committee member. “We will be sending out forms. You don’t have to be a veteran to join. We just need people to get interested in this project and to help us.”

Bass noted that the majority of the people working on this project were veterans of World War II and the Korean War, adding that this group was getting older.

“Our numbers are dwindling,” Bass said. “It’s a concern. We need new life in our organization, and that means we need help from people who are veterans, and non-veterans, too. The key to this thing’s ongoing success is to have people who are interested and sold on what we are doing.”

Longtime committee member Haskel Smith echoed that feeling.

“We’ve got to get younger people involved to keep it going,” Smith said. “This has taken a long time. Now it’s going to be a reality. But we have to be able to maintain it after that.”

Smith reminisced about the late Col. Bill Yeats, a veteran of three wars and a longtime Laurel resident, who worked on the project before his death.

“There have been a lot of people who have worked on this project, but Bill worked hard,” Smith said. “I wish he had lived to see it open.”