The Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia was hit by the tornado and the building ruined. Museum personnel were able to save about 75 percent of the artifacts, which are in private storage awaiting re-opening.

A groundbreaking was planned on two acres on N. Mt. Olive Road, which were donated for the museum by Vilonia resident Charlie Weaver. Currently, the museum is in a cleaning, repairing and fundraising mode.

Admission to the museum is always free. So is hot coffee. Perhaps one of the most important things in the museum is the veterans’ table. Any veteran is welcome to come in, sit down and visit for a few minutes — or for most of the day. Snacks are usually available. Books and magazines are on hand. Visitors are welcome to join the veterans as they swap stories, maybe gripe a little and reminisce. Most are eager to answer questions and tell of their military experiences.

Veterans are the museum’s priority. Its mission statement says that it is an outreach for veterans. The staff honors that obligation.

Some have asked, "Who is a veteran?" Anyone who has honorably served in any of the armed services or is currently serving, fits the museum’s definition of a military veteran. Some organizations only recognize war veterans, those who served during a time of war. Then there are combat veterans, who were in actual combat while serving in the military.   You don’t have to be a veteran to be part of the brigade — the   group of people who work to keep the organization afloat.

Elected officers who oversee the operation of the museum need not be veterans, but those who staff the museum are all military veterans. All staff members, brigade members and museum leaders are volunteers working without pay — often at some personal expense. That is the staff’s gift to the veterans and to the city of Vilonia.

Jim McGraw is a veteran and a docent for the museum. He and his wife, Sharon, live in Vilonia. She is a native of Vilonia. Jim was born in Michigan and has lived in six other states. While serving in the U.S. Army, he was stationed in North Carolina, Alaska and Korea.