North Carolina brings honor home to Marines and Sailors with $26 Million Appropriation to Build Carolina Museum of the Marine and Al Gray Civic Institute

Jacksonville, NC –  Marines are known for ingenuity, perseverance and fighting to the finish. Eastern North Carolina is seeing the fruits of its determined Marine veterans and retirees as plans to break ground on a 40,000 square foot museum and civic institute become a reality.

Senator Harry Brown (retired) and Senator Mike Lazzara took up the cause with  Lazzara introducing Senate Bill 70 in 2021. In his first term as a NC senator, Lazzara garnered support from the North Carolina House as well. Representative George Cleveland joined by Representative Pat McElraft, Representative Phil Shepard, and others, filed House Bill 60. Now, with Governor Roy Cooper signing North Carolina’s biennium budget today, a $26 million appropriation for construction of Carolina Museum of the Marine and Al Gray Civic Institute is official.

“Literally hundreds of people over the years and from all over the country have stayed the course to see this project through,” said BGen Dick Vercauteren, USMC (Ret). Vercauteren, chair of the board for Carolina Museum of the Marine and Al Gray Civic Institute, gives special credit to Operations Director, SgtMaj Joe Houle, USMC (Ret). “This project, no matter who is talking about it, is so strongly associated with Joe Houle,” he said. Houle has worked with the organization since its inception in 1999, weaving together a vast network of support among the region’s nonprofits including those serving our nation’s veterans.

“We are excited to begin construction on the museum,” Houle said. “Creating an enduring legacy for Carolina Marines and Sailors and the communities supporting us is an honor for all involved.”  Houle credits MajGen Ray Smith, USMC (Ret) and his wife, Colleen, with the idea of building a museum dedicated to Carolina Marines and Sailors and Senator Mike Lazzara for his unswerving dedication to the mission. He also thanks Keith and Ginger Byrd and the Byrd Family Foundation for helping the organization stay the course throughout the COVID pandemic and its tremendous impact on nonprofits. “Keith and Ginger are true heroes in this story,” Houle said. “They are the embodiment of Semper Fidelis.”    

The Museum’s educational programs have been under development since 2017 when General Al Gray, USMC (Ret) – and the USMC’s 29th Commandant – originated the idea of the Civic Institute. Al Gray Civic Institute at Carolina Museum of the Marine already offers classes in critical thinking, political and economic thought, American civics, and leadership. Classes are  offered on location (schools, businesses, civic groups) and online. With construction of the Museum and Institute, classes will be offered on site as well.

“We have an overarching opportunity to provide a forward-thinking museum and institute designed to ensure that the contributions of our Carolina Marines and Sailors to our nation’s freedom are remembered, to teach young and old alike the civic virtue in understanding what made our great Nation a leader of the free world and to help prepare our young people to lead, to follow, and to cope with future challenges,” said General Al Gray, USMC (Ret), member of the Board of Directors Executive Committee.

The Museum  will showcase Marines and Sailors whose service to the nation exemplifies civic commitment in action. The many accomplishments and innovations of Carolina Marines and Sailors and the enduring contributions of their host communities will be highlighted in a state of the art facility. The facility will also provide an exciting new multipurpose venue for public and private events including military balls, promotion and retirement ceremonies, weddings, and civic events as well as classes, seminars, conferences, and symposia.

“In the five years I’ve been privileged to serve at this organization, I have been impressed by the dedication of our operations director SgtMaj Joe Houle, USMC (Ret) and Richard Koeckert, our finance manager.  They’ve stayed the course with unwavering commitment to seeing it become a reality,” said Ashley Danielson, executive director.  “We are joined by an equally dedicated community that itself demonstrates honor, courage and commitment.  We look forward to celebrating with all of them.”

Danielson stated that the organization is also beginning the search for a chief executive officer who will oversee the construction as well as the development of exhibits and educational programs. The organization has appointed a search committee, chaired by Board of Directors Vice Chair Mark Cramer, JD. Those who are interested in the CEO position should contact Mr. Cramer at

For more information about Carolina Museum of the Marine and Al Gray Civic Institute, please contact Mr. Cramer at 910-937-0033 or by email at

MissionCarolina Museum of the Marine and Al Gray Civic Institute will honor the legacy of Carolina Marines and Sailors, sustain the ideals that are the foundation of our nation, and inspire principled, committed citizens.

Posted on: November 19, 2021
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