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Honoring History:

When I first moved to Jacksonville with my husband, I cringed at some of the sites upon my arrival: strip clubs, used auto sale lots and pawn shops. My husband said, “It’s a military town. What else do you want?” I don’t think I had any predetermined expectations, but I did want less of what I saw. I wanted more pride for the Marine Corps, more living legacies of the service we belonged to, and I definitely wanted readily available access to learn more about the history of which we’re a part. It seems I am not the only one.

Imagined by retired Marine Corps officers and senior enlisted personnel, for more than 10 years there have been plans to build a Museum of the Marine in Jacksonville (not to be confused with the National Museum of the Marine in Virginia). Slowly but surely it’s coming to fruition. Located off Montford Point Road, overlooking the Beirut, 9/11 and Vietnam memorial sculpture gardens, the museum would be a timely educational space for marines and their families, highlighting their strength as if it were a “virtual scrapbook.” By encompassing and recognizing the history of our armed services with an in-depth look at the diversity of its individuals and their achievements, the museum will educate each generation to understand the historical impact our military has made on our community. After all, since World War II the Marine Corps has long used the Carolinas to train militray and is often considered their “birthplace.”

Conversely, the task to build such a living tribute is not without its hurdles. Dependent on fund-raising and not driven by a calendar schedule, our unforgiving economic climate and limited supply of donations seems to be the museums biggest hindrance.

“It will generate jobs and local income, make schools better and provide culture, as well as a living legacy, for the Carolinas,” Scarlett Harris, executive assistant of the museum, says. “We want to show people what we are about.”

For over 20 years Harris has been a resident of Onslow County. “When my husband joined the military, I couldn’t wait to see a Humvee or a tank,” she remembers. “Driving on base was such an experience—it was incredible! We want to bring that sense of awe to everyone. Unfortunately, too many don’t associate being a marine as a job. You learn from history and that’s what we want to teach.”

In a time where many consider Memorial Day weekend little more than a three-day vacation, and where momentous names like Pearl Harbor, San Juan Hill, Belleau Wood, 38th Parallel, Tet Offensive and Normandy are rapidly losing their resolve (particularly with our youth), the creation of a museum couldn’t be more vital. It will tell contributions made by marines since the establishment of Camp Lejeune, along with the innovations of today’s battlefield, like the MV-22 Osprey. Visitors will be able to step inside specially designed “zones” to participate in interactive activities. One in particular, The Memory Zone, will provide a place for guests to record their memories of the Corps and the Carolinas, as to later be accessed and viewed by future visitants.

“Jacksonville needs more industry,” retired Sgt. Maj. Joe Houle, also known as “The Face of The Museum,” says. “We do have some things here but not that much for the younger generation. This museum will represent the marines and the sailors. Onslow County trained the first African-American marines at Montford Point, trained the first all-female squadron and led the charge with the use of war dogs in fighting in the Pacific. We continue to push the envelope to the modern battlefield. These stories haven’t been told. We need to tell them.”

As the construction site is currently being cleared, and plans are beginning to gradually pick up, Mr. Steve Smiley, fund-raising advisor, gave his hopeful strategic overview. After myriad setbacks, he hopes it will break ground in 2012.

“There’s an economic driver here, but many are reluctant to donate.” Smiley said. “The recession has slowed down so many philanthropic organizations. We’re looking for people that have an affinity—a niche market—and the museum is being built in the middle of it. It’s an investment. It can generate sustainable tourism dollars in the same way the USS NC Battleship and the Fort Fisher Aquarium does. On the flip side, there’s a great moral justification that’s imperative for the museum. It will remind people that it’s the land of the free because of the brave.”

To donate and become a part of living history, visit www.museumofthemarine.org or call 910-937-0033 to inquire.

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