Museum gifts leave amazing legacy

By LINDA HICKS

DIRECTOR OF THE MUSEUM OF VETERANS AND MILITARY HISTORY

The inventory at the Museum of Veterans and Military History has grown this week with the acquisition of a 70-year collection of military items.

Referred to as the Traveling Military Museum of Arkansas, the collection was gifted to the museum by Coach Harold Steelman of Little Rock.

We feel very fortunate to have acquired such a gift. As a result of the tornado, we lost many WWII items. Now, we have things that we could have only dreamed of having from just about every era and branch of the military.   We will continue to share Mr. Steelman’s passion with others.

Meeting Mr. Steelman was a pleasure, but at the time, I didn’t realize his service to Arkansas. I only knew I was in the presence of someone that was as passionate about preserving military history as I am and that is what we talked about during the move. Actually, I tried to look his name up but I didn’t have much luck as I was spelling it wrong. I have to say I was so excited about the potential of the gift, I didn’t question the importance of the donor.

My eyes were on the treasures as we were loading up. We talked. We joked. He kidded me about ordering folks around.   He began when he was about 18 in the city where he grew up—Pine Bluff.   Soldiers traveling by railway, on the war trains, would give him patches. He kept them all and continued to add items.

His dad, Harry, served in the Expedition Forces in World War I. Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day, was an important day to his family every year. They would go downtown for events. Also, he remembers when selling poppies was a big deal.

As I sit here this morning reading about this man, all I can say is that sometimes ignorance is bliss. To explain, I didn’t ask about his personal life. I invited him and his lovely friend, Joyce Brown, who were there during the move, to come and tour and to get to know some of our old veterans. I said I would buy the pizza.   They agreed and we plan to make it happen in a couple of months.   We will need some time, I told them, to properly get things ready for display.

Researching this morning, I have learned more about Mr. Steelman. He graduated from Pine Bluff High School. He attended Little Rock Junior College from 1952 – 1953 and then graduated from the University of Arkansas. While at the U of A, he was a member of the legendary 1954 and 1955 Razorback Football team. Mr. Steelman is best known in Arkansas sporting circles as a member of the University of Arkansas’ “25 Little Pigs” who captured the 1954 Southwest Conference football championship.

He lettered for the Razorbacks as a lineman in 1954 and 1955 before beginning his coaching career at Arkansas High School in Texarkana. After coaching in various Arkansas high schools, Mr. Steelman went on to coach at the collegiate level for over 24 years. He also managed War Memorial Stadium for 13 years, retiring in January 1999.

Mr. Steelman also has a passion for preserving the Arkansas’ World War II story. In the documentary, “Within Their Words,” he served as the head interviewer. To date, he has personally interviewed more than 100 Arkansas World War II veterans. That, of course, excites me too.

As this story unfolds, I will share the rest of the story.

The museum is open 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays. Also, groups may set up special times. There is no charge for touring. For information, call 501-796-8181.

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