Sometimes I don't understand my beloved state of Georgia. How in good conscience can we spend $19 million on something like Go Fish Georgia, which Gov. Sonny Perdue thinks is the greatest thing to hit the state since James Oglethorpe's two feet?
We have a $2 billion deficit and severe cuts are being proposed for everything from education to public health, yet we are flacking a fishing tournament. Perdue and his supporters claim a fishing championship can bring several million dollars into the state's economy. So can a hog killing if you put $19 million into promoting it.
Meanwhile, a magnificent new facility is under construction in Columbus that will add millions of dollars to the state's economy without everybody laughing their heads off at us. It is the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, a 180,000-square-foot edifice on 200 acres in Patriot Park, adjacent to Fort Benning.
The museum is scheduled to open March 20 with former Secretary of State Colin Powell as keynote speaker. I predict the day it opens its doors, the National Infantry Museum will become one of the state's top tourist attractions. It is that impressive.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has toured the site and says, "The Infantry Museum is a great asset not only to Columbus, but to our entire state. It will provide a rich experience for thousands of visitors each year and is a wonderful economic development opportunity."
Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, agrees, "The National Infantry Museum is not only a unique addition to Georgia's tourism but a testament to the state's military heritage and personnel."
The driving force behind the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center is Maj. Gen. Jerry A. White. Gen. White retired as commanding general at Fort Benning in 1994. He could have ridden off into the sunset with his awards and decorations, including the Silver Star and the Bronze Star from two tours in Vietnam, and lived happily ever after. But he didn't. He is giving back to our state. And what a gift.
The museum is a labor of love for Gen. White. He reminded me that close to 80 percent of all those who have died for their country in war were in the infantry. More than half of all Medals of Honor given have been earned by infantrymen, yet nowhere has there been a proper tribute to those countless numbers who over the past 232 years have had the responsibility for "the last 100 yards" to secure the battlefield, a source of great pride to the infantry.
Patriotism aside, the museum will be a state and even national attraction. Columbus State University's Abbott Turner College of Business projects an annual economic impact of $50 million for Georgia. Gen. White estimates the museum will attract as many as 500,000 people annually to the facility, including the family and friends of the 40,000 young men and women who graduate from Infantry School each year. More importantly, the facility and what it represents will make us stand tall with pride instead of shaking our heads in embarrassment.
Local state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, is positively giddy over the museum. "Having a father and grandfather with over a half century of military service, I have a strong affinity and great respect for our military. I am proud to have the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, and all Georgians will be proud to claim it as their own."
I don't have the space to tell you all the good things that will be available at the National Infantry Museum: interactive exhibits, an IMAX theater, the World War II Company Street where Gen. George Patton lived and worked, weapons, simulators, stories of heroism, educational and patriotic programs as well as soil from the U.S. Infantry's battlefields going back to the Revolutionary War.
Take my word for it: the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center is spectacular. You will need to see it for yourself to appreciate it. By the way, admission is free. And it beats Go Fish Georgia like a drum.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com; Web site.