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Ex-servicemen help close Northeast Georgia History Center's World War II exhibit
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As the Northeast Georgia History Center on Sunday brought an end to its long-running World War II exhibit, military veterans from throughout the region gathered to remember.

The center celebrated Veterans Day with a ceremony honoring veterans and their families and invited them to tour the American Freedom Garden, where many found their names carved into a series of granite pillars.

One of those veterans, Marvin Locey, 81, of Gainesville, joined the Navy the day after he graduated high school.

"The first shock was that I couldn’t go home," said Locey about his first day of training. "(But) there was a willingness to serve. No one was hanging back, not wanting to go."

Locey served from 1945 to 1946 as a fireman second class.

After the war, he went to Drake University under the G.I. Bill, which he called the "greatest thing that happened at the end of the war." It allowed returning soldiers to go to school, paid for by the Navy.

"They were urging us to re-up, but I wanted to go to school," Locey said.

But he stayed in the Ready Reserves 10 years after his service.

Another veteran, James J. Jirik, 79, of Gainesville also found his name as well, as his relatives’ names, inscribed on the pillars.

Jirik served for four years in the Navy during the Korean War. He became part of the Royal Order of Bluenose after he crossed the Arctic Circle during his 36 months of sea duty.

Jirik hopes to hear some marching music next Veterans Day, but said the exhibit was, "wonderful and very well done."

The "Northeast Georgia Remembers World War II" exhibit, which ended Sunday, featured displays of newspaper headlines, battlefield information and war artifacts. A U.S. Marine Corps Jeep also was on display.

Edward Gardner, 90, of Gainesville said the Band Of Brothers poster brought back fond memories.

"We had fun," he said. "I had about 36 heroes under me. They were the best guys I ever saw."

After seeing the exhibit, Gardner said he "didn’t know people back home gave up so much."

Gardner served in the Army for five years in World War as a platoon commander in a mortar battalion. The first lieutenant was involved in five major battles.

"The hardest part was loosing friends, and then having to write home and tell their parents why you let them get killed," he said.

However, all the memories were not bad. Gardner smiled at a helmet on display, and recalled using one like it to make breakfast in.

Most of all, Gardner said he and his fellow men were fighting for a cause.

"There was no doubt you had a purpose there," he said. "It was no big thing because everyone was doing the same thing."

The person behind the American Freedom Garden was fellow veteran John Jacobs.

John Burd, the museum’s volunteer executive director, said Jacobs "didn’t talk about the war, but put his actions into this."

Jacobs was a forward observer, calling infantry on the field during World War II.

"What was the hardest part? Staying alive!" he said, recalling the experience.

Among other things, the exhibit also featured the Ken Burns-directed documentary, "The War."

The overall opinion of the veterans at the museum was that of pride. Each veteran walked slowly through the garden, hoping to see an old friend on the wall.

Though Veterans Day comes only once a year, the History Center’s goal with the American Freedom Garden is summarized in its mission statement: To instill in every generation a love of and devotion to America.

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