Five generations of Ellis “Pete” Gordon’s family gathered Saturday at the National Guard Armory to commemorate their patriarch’s contribution to the Liberty Independent Troop’s rich history.
Gordon, a Ludowici native and the only living solder who served with the unit in World War II, did not say much at the event, but his family still said it was a proud day.
“He’d never talk about it much until the last two or three years,” said his son, Gary Gordon, who added that his grandfather and great-grandfather also were members of the troop.
A photograph taken around 1916 at the Mexican border that features Gordon’s father and uncles will serve as one of many artifacts of the countless soldiers who served with the troop since its inception 225 years ago.
“It’s a treasure, I think, representing the lineage of this unit,” Liberty Independent Troop President Wayne Stewart said.
The items are on display in the Liberty History Center at 100 Commerce St.; however, Saturday’s opening reception and ribbon cutting were relocated to the armory due to rain.
“It is very fitting that we have such an occasion here at this location, because that is where the history of this military unit (formed), what it’s meant,” Stewart said.
The museum is a collaboration between the historical society and the troop, which first was mustered into service in 1861 and has been called four more times to federal service.
Two former unit commanders and at least four former presidents of the organization also attended.
Former Commander Dick Cohan, who served in the unit from 1947-64 before transferring to Savannah, pointed out photographs of himself and Stewart.
He said the pair has been collecting and archiving items for the museum so younger generations can “learn what we did over the years.”
The exhibition includes text and photograph panels, uniforms, flags and artifacts as well as written materials that detail the troop’s service.
“This is just a beginning of what will be … I’ve been receiving stuff at least every week, and I am confident that we’ll receive much, much more,” Stewart added.
Liberty History Center
Like the Hinesville Area Arts Council storefront next door, the Liberty History Center is made possible through a lease with the Liberty County Board of Commissioners.
The Liberty County Historical Society, which provides operating funds for the center, funded an estimated $19,000 in renovations for 500 square feet of ground-floor space in exchange for rent.
“We’re trying to pull all the history together so people can learn, preserve and pass on this knowledge,” historical society president Randy Branch said. He is in talks with the BoC about renovating and using the second-floor space.
“We are trying to cover areas that aren’t represented in other museums in other areas,” Branch said. “The two things I want to do in the coming year are, obviously, the Liberty Independent Troop, but we want to work toward an exhibit for St. Catherines Island.”
Branch said the coastal wildlife survival center that serves as one of Liberty County’s barrier islands has an exhibit at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta but does not have a more prominent display for local audiences.
While the museum is opening with only the troop display and has hours limited currently to 4-7 p.m. Thursdays, Branch said he hopes to expand the hours to Saturday mornings but is seeking volunteers.
Long term, the group plans to tell lesser-known tales, such as those of the former towns of Taylors Creek and Willie, which now are part of Fort Stewart.
“There were lots of other little small towns. A lot of them had post offices and things,” he added.
The museum also may feature smaller exhibitions from other historical points, such as the Midway Museum, Dorchester Academy and LeConte Woodmanston Plantation as a way of directing visitors toward historical points of interest.
As part of that collaboration, the Midway Museum loaned Branch a cup presented to W.M. Stevens and the troop in 1861 from the citizens of Liberty County, when the troop was a horse-cavalry troop. Also on display was a troop epaulette from 1890.
“We want to try to pull everything together. We’re the historical body for the whole county,” Branch said.