In time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Jacksonville Museum of Military History will have a new exhibit and a tribute to seven Arkansans who fought in World War II.
Robert Houston has been a living historian — visiting schools in period costume to teach children about the military — and volunteered with the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, in addition to holding down his regular job in a veterinarian’s office.
Houston has been volunteering with the museum for several years and has worked on the new exhibit that honors troops who served in the 4th Infantry Division that landed on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944.
Growing up in a military family himself, Houston has taken care to contact families of the seven soldiers he is honoring through the exhibit — Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class Albert James Antoine; Gunner’s Mate 1st Class James E. Atterberry; Pvt. Edsel A. Malone; Maj. George Shell Grant; Pfc. Isaac W. Wright; Pfc. Walter W. Jones; and Technician 5th Grade Henry B. Maguffee.
“I was raised to respect the soldiers and their families,” Houston said.
In 2006, Houston went to Normandy, where he viewed the site of the battle and visited the cemetery of soldiers who died in the war.
“When I went to Normandy, I gained a lot more respect for those men,” he said.
The tribute to the soldiers will include written biographies, certificates of awards and photos.
Also in time for the D-Day anniversary, Houston has been working on an expansion to the D-Day exhibit that will include uniforms and equipment of the American paratrooper and seaborne force, the uniform of a German officer and a full-scale replica of a beach obstacle called a Czech hedgehog.
The Czech hedgehog was an anti-tank obstacle originally used on the Czech-German border in an attempt to keep Nazi tanks out of Czechoslovakia. The large spiky steel structures worked when a tank tried to move them or ran into them. The Czech hedgehog would lift the tank’s treads off the ground, disabling the tank.
The Nazi forces moved Czech hedgehogs to the beaches of Normandy before the D-Day invasion in an attempt to keep Allied ships at bay.
“These were an anti-tank weapon, but they were effective in tearing up the boats as well,” Houston said.
Houston has recreated a Czech hedgehog to display in the expanded D-Day exhibit, which also includes a small amount of sand from Normandy mixed in with filler sand.
“When I went to Normandy, I brought back some sand from Omaha Beach,” he said. “It’s kind of sacred ground.”
The new exhibit — including the tribute to the Arkansan soldiers — is slated to be unveiled at 11 a.m. May 24. The museum is at 100 Veterans Circle in Jacksonville. Family members of some of the seven men are expected to be present for the unveiling.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class Albert James Antoine, serial number 644 07 45, U.S. Navy corpsman: Antoine was born Sept. 5, 1924, in Hot Springs. He died Nov. 28, 2005, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He served aboard the LST-351, caring for British troops on Sword Beach on D-Day. He had previously served throughout the Mediterranean Campaign and continued his Navy career as a radiology technician until his honorable discharge in 1954. He enlisted in the Navy in October 1941, just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. His service decorations included the Purple Heart.
Private Edsel A. Malone, Army serial number 371 07 072, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 81 mm Mortar Platoon, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division: Malone was born May 3, 1919, in Okolona and killed in action June 7, 1944, in or around the Hill 30 area along the Merderet River Normandy. Malone was awarded the Purple Heart. His division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its tenacity in the Normandy Campaign. There is more information available on Malone in the library of the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.
Maj. George Shell Grant, Army serial number O-351088, executive officer, 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Grant was born Dec. 7, 1915, in Arkansas’ Prairie Township. He was killed in action June 6, 1944. Maj. Grant and virtually his entire “stick” of paratroopers were misdropped on Drop Zone D, just southeast of St-Come-du-Mont, and landed on Rampan Manor, which had been commandeered and was utilized as a German headquarters. His stick of paratroopers and naval observers suffered very heavy casualties. He was awarded the Purple Heart. His division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its tenacity in the Normandy Campaign. There will be soon be more information available on the major in the museum library.
Information is being gathered on James E. Atterberry, Isaac W. Wright, Walter W. Jones and Henry B. Maguffee.
— Compiled by Robert Houston