Uniformed mannequins and more than 17,000 artifacts breathe life into the G.I. Museum in the Sean M. Cooley Memorial Hall at Gautier.
If Memorial Day has sparked you to think of paying tribute to our military, this museum makes a great excursion. It’s an easy day trip from anywhere in south Mississippi. Doug Mansfield and his wife Cheryl, owners of the military exhibits, opened their own gallery because they wanted to help teach others, especially children, about wars fought by the United States of America and the sacrifices made by those who fought in them.
“Seven of my uncles served in World War II. When I was 10, I bought my first book on WWII. I’ve always been interested in it,” Mansfield said.
The couple named the museum the Sean M. Cooley Memorial Hall in memory of their son’s National Guard Platoon Sergeant, the late Sean Cooley of Ocean Springs, a native of George County. Cooley was killed in Iraq in February 2005 after his vehicle exploded due to a hidden bomb. He was with the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion based out of Lucedale.
The Mansfield’s son, Douglas L. Mansfield, served as Assistant Platoon Sergeant and was traveling in a tracked vehicle behind Cooley’s Humvee when the explosion occurred. Immediately after the blast, Mansfield took command of the situation, attempted to save Cooley’s life and was later awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for his actions.
The museum opened in August 2006, and was named for Cooley. A glass display case inside the museum pays tribute to Cooley and includes photos, his nursing uniform and a soldier’s cross.
“I first met Sean when he was in nursing school at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College,” Mansfield said. “My son got to know him when he joined the guard and was assigned that platoon. Sean’s death is something I never got over. My son never got over it. Everybody in that platoon never got over it.”
The museum displays a vast amount of WWII artifacts, but it also showcases items from all other wars including World War I, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and those fought in Middle East. All divisions of the U.S. Military, including the Coast Guard, are recognized with exhibits. Also represented are chaplains, nurses and photographers.
An impressive number of items spotlight females’ roles in enlisted service. A rare flight suit and a dress suit worn by a member of the WWII Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) are among the collection. Only 1,074 women served in WASP and only 1,200 sets of flight and dress uniforms were manufactured.
“Women have played an important role in military, even in WWII, beyond the Red Cross and the volunteers. You don’t see many women uniforms displayed. We’ve got the largest female military exhibit in the Southeast,” Mansfield said.
The female exhibit includes lipsticks, facial compacts and hosiery repair kits used by service women.
General artifacts include helmets, rations, religious communion sets, hand-wound record players, cameras, technical devices, and other varied pieces including a Huey helicopter. The Mansfields purchased all items with their own funds and manage the museum themselves.
Public tours are available the first and third Sundays of each month from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Other tour times can be arranged. Admission is free of charge. Donations are welcome. To visit the museum, take Exit 57 from I-10, travel south two miles and follow the signs. Although it’s located in Gautier, the physical address for a GPS is 5796 Ritcher Road, Ocean Springs, MS 39564. The website is www.gimuseum.com and the telephone number is (228)872-1943.