An incredible treasure is how visitors to Harrison County Historical Museum’s newly unveiled “Service & Sacrifice” military exhibit described the gallery while taking a tour during the grand opening Saturday.

“Our museum proudly presents the gift of this exhibit to our community and the visitors to this community,” museum board president, Ann Brannon, said as she welcomed a standing-room only crowd to the dedication ceremony.

The 1,700-square foot exhibit features 164 artifacts and 184 people of Harrison County. The exhibit is located on the first floor of the newly renovated Memorial City Hall inside of the Steve and Penny Carlile Gallery.

The gallery was named in honor of the local philanthropists, whose generous $100,000 donation helped provide the financial stability the exhibit needed to help complete the gallery.

“As a local history museum, our mission guides us to tell stories about Harrison County people,” said Brannon. “In these exhibits you will discover rich history of the service and sacrifice of Harrison County citizens — both on the warfront and the home front.

“We believe you will find stories that will inform you, entertain you and inspire you,” she said.

Museum officials noted how the exhibit has been a decade in the making, starting in 2007 when the city of Marshall invited the museum to partner in the restoration of the then vacant Memorial City Hall.

Speaking during the dedication, gallery sponsors, Steve and Penny Carlile, expressed how excited they were to be part of such a feat.

“So many people have worked so long to make this a reality,” said Penny.

She thanked all board members, both past and present, for their efforts as well as former director Janet Cook and newly appointed executive director, Becky Palmer. She also acknowledged the city of Marshall for the use of Memorial City Hall.

“It’s the perfect place for the military exhibit. We’re just very excited to be a part of that,” said Penny.

Steve Carlile praised all for persevering through the challenges that arose throughout the project.

“It wasn’t always smooth; it wasn’t always easy; it wasn’t always fun, but we’ve got a great result,” said Steve.

“To finish it, I think that perseverance is something that’s really special because it shows perseverance of our town, our country, and perseverance of those that fought to keep us free, because we all know that freedom is not free. Somebody’s going to pay for your freedom. Somebody’s paying for our freedom today,” he said. “That’s why this military exhibit is so important. And that’s why it’s so important that we not only do a military exhibit, but we do one that is outstanding, that is one that we can be proud of.”

To mark the special occasion, the Greater Marshall Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting at the grand opening and presented the museum with the keys to the chamber.

“This is such a wonderful building and ‘Service & Sacrifice’ exhibit is fantastic,” Chamber board chair-elect Ashli Dansby complimented as she presented the keys to the Chamber.

“It’s a gem here in Harrison County and I think it rivals some of the greater museums that we see across the country, possibly in the world, so we’re thrilled to have it here.”

Giving acknowledgements, former museum director Janet Cook, noted how appreciative they are of the Carliles, who acted as angels, giving the project the push it needed, when things seemed bleak.

She also thanked Martha Robb, who, in 2006, led the project as chairman of the new museum committee.

“They had a huge task in front of them to raise $1.2 million to do exhibits in the 1901 courthouse and here in Memorial City Hall,” Cook said of the new museum committee. “They wanted to have one of the best small, county history museums in Texas; and they would settle for nothing less than that.”

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Taking a tour, Willie Mae Lee Williams, of Karnack, and her sister Pearl Davidson, of Marshall, expressed how impressed they were by the exhibit.

“Everything is beautiful; 100 percent,” Williams said, noting the exhibit reminds her of her late father’s service in the Navy.

Former City Commissioner LaDarius Carter, who brought along his family, also considered the exhibit stunning.

“I think this is outstanding,” said Carter. “Our boys are checking it out, learning a lot.

“After many years of hard, work it’s great to see this opened to the public,” said Carter.

Veterans were also in awe. Jake Hayward, one of the featured Vietnam veterans in the exhibit, shared how honored he was to be a part.

“This is just awesome to me. It’s so nice. They really put some effort into it,” said Hayward, who was a helicopter pilot, using the radio handle “Jake the Snake.”

Hayward’s daughter, Jackie Slaughter, who traveled from Hutto near Austin for Saturday’s grand opening, was also touched by the exhibit.

“It is amazing to see the details that they have put into this exhibit, especially for veterans,” she said.

“Y’all just don’t know how much the family sacrificed with him being gone — quite a few Christmases, birthdays, Fourth of Julys we had to do without him,” said Slaughter.

But through the three-year absence, one thing they enjoyed was receiving handwritten letters and tape recordings of her father’s voice.

“He had a tape recorder and we used to send tapes back and forth to each other to hear his voice and so he could hear ours,” she smiled.

Gazing at a picture of her father in his cubby-hole, Slaughter recalled how sad she was to learn of the soldiers’ living conditions during war.

“All I could think of was he’s living like that and we’re living in the house with running water and that’s like a tent,” she recalled.

“There were times we were just praying, and that’s all we did,” she reminisced. “There were long stretches of time that he couldn’t get in touch with us.”

Seeing the exhibit and her father’s artifacts remind her of how blessed they were through it all.

“You know, you think the worse. It was horrifying to think he was in that kind of danger and then for him to survive it without a scratch (is a blessing),” said Slaughter.“It’s just amazing to see this.”

Olive Black, the designer of the gallery from MuseWork, out of Austin, was humbled by the positive feedback Saturday as she shared in the grand opening, visiting with spectators and snapping photos.

“It is like birthing a child and then having people walk around and touching it,” Black beamed.

The designer described how she literally touched every spectacle of the exhibit from the colorization to the photoshopping of photos to the inclusion of text.

“I was telling my husband that this has been my life for at least six years and I know more about this county now than I do any place I’ve ever lived, having done the design,” said Black. “It’s almost like home to me.”

Events/Tours

The celebratory weekend continues today with a special “Behind the Exhibit” event, offering a special guided tour to support the museum’s education program. The guided tours will begin at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at a cost of $10 per person by reservation only. Event and ticket information is available at harrisoncountymuseum.org.

For Veterans’ Day, Monday, the military exhibit will be open an hour before and two hours after the 14th annual Marshall-Harrison County Veterans Day Celebration, which will be held at the Memorial City Hall auditorium. Exhibit admission will be free for veterans and active duty military and by donation for all others.

Starting Tuesday, “Service & Sacrifice” will open for regular business. Hours of operation will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.