Photos by SARAH CAMPBELL
Some came for the free hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks provided by area banks, others because they were related to the bluegrass band providing entertainment and some to see the museum’s new D-Day exhibit.
But most – young and old -- came to visit, recall, remember and honor veterans as an early salute to Memorial Day.
The museum offered free admission and one visitor stopped and eyed the large Arkansas map on the wall that listed all the Arkansans who died in that conflict.
Hanging from the ceiling were their dog tags.
“I dated a boy from Texarkana that died in Vietnam,” a woman told one of the museum guides. “His name was Larry Pool.”
The guide found the name and the dog tag for the teary-eyed visitor.
But the highlight of the event was the official opening of the D-Day exhibit, which included biographies, pictures and personal items of area soldiers who fought in World War II. Many of those soldiers had died in the war.
One of those was Army Pvt. Edsel A. Malone. His sister, Frances Malone, came up from Georgia to add sand from the beaches of Normandy to the exhibit.
Jacksonville resident Robert Houston, who put the display together, provided the sand. He got it on a recent trip to Normandy while doing research for the exhibit.
Francis remembers the day her older brother died.
“I was just 10 years old when the man with the telegram came to our house in Hope. The crying started right then,” she said.
Private Malone, who grew up in Clark County playing baseball, hunting and fishing, landed in the area of Etienville, Normandy. Heavy anti-aircraft fire scattered the allied troops. Slowly, the soldiers found each other in the dark and Malone and his fellow “Red Devils” (50th Parachute Infantry Regiment) fought through D-Day holding down the enemy and allowing other units to advance.
On June 7, 1944, Malone and his friend “Buddy” Webster volunteered to go and retrieve vital supply bundles that contained much-needed ammunition and medical supplies.
In search of those supplies, the two came upon a German machine gun position and didn’t have a chance of surviving the barrage of bullets.
Malone was awarded the Purple Heart and was initially buried in a temporary cemetery in the area. In 1948, his body was properly buried, with full military honors, at the American cemetery in Normandy.
But for the younger ones like Robert Trimble, 13, of Cabot, and Hunter Johannes, 13, of Beebe, attending the all-day event, it was an opportunity to try on uniforms, helmets, sit in an aircraft simulator and check out the replica guns.
“Awesome,” Johannes said.
Trimble echoed those thoughts, “It’s really cool.”
Warren Dupree, collections manager for the museum, called it a very nice alternative event for the Memorial weekend.
“It’s very informal. People are drifting in and out, and they don’t have to fight the holiday crowds,” he said.