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Eighty years of Marine Corps history established a beachhead during the winter along the Buffalo River, as local veterans prepared a new permanent exhibit for a waterfront military park.

Artifacts, boxes, pieces of uniforms and cases of equipment mark the "landing zone" in the central hall of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen's Park museum, as hurried final touches are applied to displays set to open Saturday.

"The Marines have landed, and the situation is well in hand," Henry Ruskin, project leader, said, quoting from a banner hanging high above the exhibit.

The new exhibit will showcase corps history from World War I through Operation Desert Storm.

More than a dozen veterans have been working for three months to put together the display that will occupy half the museum's main hall.

"These people have been working here every week since January," said Patrick Cunningham, the park's executive director. "All the cost and all the work is being borne by the veterans. Col. Ruskin has been the spearhead for all this."

The new exhibit will features uniforms, gear and weapons used by Marines in conflicts from World War I and an early-century mission to Haiti to combat in the Persian Gulf. Enemy rifles, flags and other "war souvenir" equipment also will be on display.

Other items have been garnered through the months from other veterans, in anticipation of the exhibit opening.

Documents, maps and photographs trace individual Marine careers and the corps progress through both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. World War II combat is traced from Pearl Harbor to Okinawa, with special emphasis on the bloody Marine Corps battles on Tarawa, Peleliu and Iwo Jima.

Marine aviation and women Marines are highlighted in exhibit galleries, and floor displays include typical field set-ups of shelter halves and mosquito netting.

The exhibit, designed as a permanent addition to the hall, moves into an area vacated by the removal of the James Gillis ship model collection, lost in a still-lingering contract dispute. The museum itself had been targeted for demolition in new Inner Harbor development set to begin this year.

But the budgetary demise of the Horizons Waterfront Commission has left those plans uncertain.

Local Marine Corps recruiters and reservists have supported the work. Mannequins for uniform displays have come from AM&A's stores and their successor, The Bon-Ton, and display cases have been provided by J.C. Penney stores.

The group is working to finish the display by Saturday, the park's official opening day. The exhibit will be dedicated formally held May 20, Armed Forces Day, with ceremonies and a barbecue.

Cunningham said the park, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first month and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May through Labor Day, will feature other changes.

An upper gallery will hold exhibits put together by Veterans Hospital and the group of former prisoners of war that meets there. The newly refurbished 6-inch gun turret on the cruiser USS Little Rock also will be opened to the public for the first time, and exhibit space has been added aboard the Little Rock and the destroyer USS The Sullivans.

Also new this year will be canvas awnings on the bow of the Little Rock, allowing events to be booked there as well as on the fantail of the warship. Half the cost of the new coverings was donated by the association of former Little Rock crew members, which will meet here June 13-18 for the 50th anniversary of the ship's commissioning.

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