Show up. Take part. Enjoy. Honor them.
But the Anniston Military Heritage Reunion is just that — three days of commemoration and fun. By weekend’s end, the golf tournament will conclude. The military-themed exhibits will be packed away. Visitors will return home. Oral histories will be heard and recorded.
Yet, the military heritage of this part of Alabama will remain. No one will box that up and hide it in a closet until the next celebration is planned.
It deserves more than a weekend.
It deserves something permanent, something that would twin with Centennial Memorial Park — plus the heritage marker it’ll receive next weekend — and cement Anniston as a go-to destination for veterans, historians, researchers and tourists who value Anniston’s bond with Fort McClellan and the soldiers who called it home for nearly 100 years.
It deserves a museum, or an expansive hall of honor that explains the innumerable names and plaques that still adorn aging McClellan buildings, or — at the least — a more concerted year-round effort to see Calhoun County’s military heritage as a tool for tourism, recreation and cultural growth.
Fort McClellan’s 1999 closure shouldn’t be a hindrance. Instead, it should be a catalyst for someone with vision and desire to make this happen. If anything, next weekend’s celebration illustrates what’s possible — and what’s needed.
Don’t think it’s worth it?
Then why is the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives in Athens?
And why is the Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville?
And why is the U.S. Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker?
And why is the Alabama Military Hall of Honor at Marion Military Institute?
Plus, don’t forget the Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, and the Aliceville POW Museum, and the coastal exhibits at Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan and … well, the point’s made.
Don’t fall prey to the misguided assumption that the legacy of Fort McClellan — and, for that matter, the legacies of Anniston Army Depot and the Alabama National Guard — isn’t similarly important to this state as those honored in Mobile and Aliceville and Athens and elsewhere.
Look, Anniston already has a permanent military park on Quintard Avenue that draws visitors and tour groups. It’s top notch. That it’s the official state veterans memorial site is no trite fact.
But this community’s military heritage is so deep, so profound, that a modern-day brick-and-mortar commemoration at the former Army post is an undeniable need. This belief is worth repeating: McClellan’s never-ending redevelopment will err if it doesn’t eventually include this sort of tribute in its master plan.
This idea of memorializing those who made McClellan a hallowed place is part of the larger picture that Joan McKinney calls “the rich heritage of the culture” of military life in Anniston. She’s right, of course.
As the post’s longtime community outreach coordinator and director of protocol, McKinney is deeply involved in the planning of next weekend’s events. Let’s share her high hopes that the city’s military heritage reunion will be a success.
As we chatted this week, she asked several pertinent questions: Would a well-informed focus group help continue the idea of making military heritage more than a weekend celebration? Would a foundation need to oversee the collection of artifacts for a museum? Should future celebrations be planned for specific groups, such as World War II veterans who trained at McClellan, or black soldiers whose history is intertwined with the former post’s Monteith Theater?
“After all this is over,” McKinney said, “maybe we ought to sit down and say, ‘What else can we do to make it long-lasting?’
“I think we have merely scratched the surface that this homecoming should continue.”
There’s your vision.
Problem is, vision is free, but implementing ideas requires money. Until someone can solve that fiscal dilemma — and it’s a monumental one — then vision alone won’t see this notion get off the ground.
A quick point: There’s a museum in Calhoun County that honors Confederate soldiers and Native Americans, but there’s not a museum here that honors our military heritage and Fort McClellan’s legacy.
Yes, vision is needed.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor.
• To learn more about the Anniston Military Reunion: http://www.calhounchamber.org