Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

TOP STORY>> New museum opens doors to visitors

IN SHORT: Some 300 people on Sunday attended the grand opening ceremony in Jacksonville for a museum that has been planned for 20 years.

By Brian Rodriguez
Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History at 100 Veterans Circle in Jackson-ville opened its doors to about 300 people Sunday to share its exhibits from the Civil War to current conflicts.

Members of the Little Rock Air Force Base Historic Foundation have worked to open the museum for more than 20 years.

“Man, it feels great after all these years,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Linz (ret.), vice president of the foundation. “It seems like a lot of weight’s off the shoulders.”

Bill Elia, a foundation board member, said it was a great feeling to look at his watch and see only five minutes remained to open the doors after working on the project for more than two decades.

The museum is a 4,500-square-foot building that houses items from the Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the war in Bosnia-Kosovo, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and other conflicts.

“This has been a long day coming,” said Joan Zumwalt, secretary and treasurer for the foundation. “It’s something for the community to be proud of.”

Ben Rice, president of the foundation, said he never doubted the project would succeed.

“There was enough grass root support that we all knew it would open some day,” he said. “We are a military town and we’re going with the flow. We’re not running against traffic.”

The museum was first proposed at LRAFB, but the Air Force issued a halt to the construction of any new parks or museums on Air Force bases before work could begin.

The foundation also planned to build where the new Jacksonville Wal-Mart Supercenter is located, but elected to find a new location and sold its land to Wal-Mart.

The foundation finally decided to locate the museum in the administration building of the former Jacksonville Ordnance Plant that later housed the Jacksonville Funeral Home and several other occupants like a McDonald’s office, a barbershop and an antique shop.

Col. Joseph M. Reheiser, commander of the LRAFB, commended the efforts of the LRAFB Historic Foundation.

“It’s a very well-done museum for Jacksonville,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a class act by the people putting it together.”

Some visitors at the opening came from cities in Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii.

Vietnam veteran Bobby Bowen, one of many who attended the opening, said the museum shows how much the public’s attitude on the military has changed since he was enlisted.

“It’s been a long time coming, but I guess it was worth the wait,” he said. “Jacksonville has seen a lot of changes and this is a good change. The patriotism has picked up quite a bit.”

“It wasn’t such a good scene for the guys coming back in the 70s,” he continued. “Past, present and future, the vets need the support and this is another way of showing it.”

The foundation has chosen Berna Love to serve as a consultant while it continues its search for a curator.

“They’re doing great. The whole museum – I’m impressed,” she said. “I’ve never seen the caliber of artifacts they have here.”
She said she likes hearing firsthand accounts of military experiences from veterans who visit the museum for their own knowledge.
Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and military personnel, and $1 for students.
An expansion project is underway for a 9,150-square-foot addition that is funded by a $300,000 loan from Community Bank.

The foundation plans to feature LRAFB and the Air National Guard in the expansion in about six months when construction is finished.