For over 28 years the Armed Forces Museum has existed in the St.Louis region. It has had many different homes during its long history starting at St.Louis’ Lambert Airport to various locations including Granite City, and more recently, Alton, Illinois.
For the past 8 years, the museum has rented a building on the property of Alton Steel for $1.00. However, after a lightening storm in 2010, the museum building failed an inspection which sparked the hunt for a new location. Despite a lowered population of vehicles by owners and raffles, the Armed Forces Museum staff continued their search for a new home and keep alive what was one of the largest national collections of military vehicles. After a year’s worth of searching and meetings, the Museum was able to find a new home on the property of the American Farm Heritage Museum in Greenville, Illinois.
The relocation to Greenville would open an exciting new chapter for the Museum, however, finding a new location was only part of the equation. A move of this magnitude comes with its own financial challenges. With the Museum facing limited options, once again Alton Steel had come to the rescue of the Museum. This time is was with a $37,000 donation making the move a reality.
Alton Steel’s CEO Charles Linnemeyer explains, “The Armed Forces Museum had found a new home in Greenville, but needed financial assistance with the move. The Alton Steel Board decided to donate the funds to help them make the move to what should be an improved, more visible location for them.”
Another big supporter of the Armed Forces Museum has been Fred’s Towing of Alton, Illinois. They have assisted the Museum periodically over the years in the relocation of old military vehicles, and their help has been greatly appreciated.
The American Farm Heritage Museum is an excellent location which enjoys tourist traffic throughout the year from its many special events and festivals. This level of visibility will also assist in the Armed Forces Museum’s mission to education young people and the public and to help keep alive our nation’s rich military history.
Another mission of the Museum is a program called “Living History” which furnishes displays of historic vehicles, uniforms, and memorabilia. It also works with reenactors at civil events like Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day. In addition, the museum also participates with reenactments and furnishes schools, youth, and civic groups the opportunity to see and experience history far beyond a book or a movie.
On Friday morning, July 22nd, the Museum’s last and most popular vehicle, the 1943 LVT4 – Landing Vehicle Tracked, left its Alton home on Cut Street bound for Greenville with the help of Fred’s Towing. The Marine’s LVT4, nicknamed the “Alligator” or “Water Buffalo” for its amphibious qualities, was widely used during WWII. The Alligator had the capacity of carrying a jeep + 16 equipped troops or 60 equipped troops. The Alligator did not see D-Day but was more commonly used in the heavy fighting of the South Pacific during WWII. It was also used in battle as late as 1950 during the Korean War in the invasion of Inshon Harbor.
The Alligator also has a very special history with St.Louis, Missouri. The LVT4 was manufactured in St.Louis by the St.Louis Car Company, which also built streetcars, tolleybuses, and locomotives off North Broadway. The LVT4’s testing grounds were also in St.Louis on Hall Street, where the St.Louis Jail stands today. The Alligator additionally had its amphibious testing in Spanish Lake in North St.Louis County. And more recently, this particular Alligator was loaned to a Hollywood production company for the filming of Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers.”
This gem of military history has been enjoyed by many over the past 3 decades, bringing to life the tales of bravery long after the soldiers themselves. Though the Armed Forces Museum leaves its home in Alton for a brighter future, its leaves bittersweet fans who recognize the importance of continuing the story.