COLOMBIA – An exhibit detailing the stories of Vietnam War veterans will finally open in September at the Confederate Relics Hall and Military Museum in South Carolina after a series of setbacks, including flooding and a pandemic, which have delayed the project for several years.
The exhibit, tentatively scheduled to open September 16, will tell compelling war stories through oral histories, interactive activities and rare artifacts. However, the exhibit will primarily serve as a stepping stone for the museum to reconnect with communities in Columbia and South Carolina after it was embroiled in controversy surrounding the state’s former Confederate flag, museum director Allen Roberson said. .
“We were highly respected in the community, highly respected in the press, and we lost that,” Roberson said. “We were tied up with the flag and all that.”
The Vietnam exhibit is the museum’s way of regaining its positive stance and putting itself in a position to move forward, he said.
This plan, however, faced a seemingly endless series of setbacks.
Months before the exhibit was scheduled to open in 2019, a burst pipe flooded the exhibit hall, causing damage that would take more than a year to repair. By the time the work was completed, the COVID-19 pandemic had struck and the exhibition was once again suspended. When work on the project resumed after the peak of the pandemic, the museum had to replace its sprinkler system and upgrade its exhibit hall security.
The Vietnam exhibit is a particular point of pride for the museum because the museum’s budget funds it with no additional money from the state, Roberson said. After the flag was removed from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse in 2015 and donated to the museum, controversy over the flag took over the museum. As a result, the museum did not open new exhibits for several years and increased its savings, which now funds the Vietnam exhibit, Roberson said.
The exhibit will focus on South Carolina’s impact on the Vietnam War and highlight the large number of state troopers who fought in the war.
“It was a very politically directed war,” Roberson said. “Then afterwards (the soldiers) said to themselves: ‘What would I get for this?’ And they’re going to die in the next 10, 20 years. And I think it’s time to recognize them and recognize what they did.”
Among the South Carolina veterans to be featured is Robert Miller, board member of the Confederate Relics Hall and the Vietnam Military and Veteran Museum. The exhibit will feature Miller’s orders from the war, which shrapnel from a landmine shredded while Miller rescued a friend who had been shot.
“I remember being scared to death,” Miller said.
The story of Steve Flaherty, born in an orphanage to a WWII soldier and a Japanese woman, will also be featured. Years later, he was adopted by a Colombian family, moved to South Carolina, and became a high school football star. As a young man, Flaherty volunteered for the Vietnam War, to fight for the country that had given him such a wonderful life.
Until the exhibit kicks off, people can expect audio-visual features, historically significant items like authentic guns and interactive sets, Roberson said.
Contact Leah Hincks at 843-830-2555. Follow her on Twitter @LeahHincks