Grant Smith, a senior history major at Williams Baptist College, spent his summer vacation reading through hundreds of Lawrence County World War II records. Smith volunteered as a summer intern at the at the Wings of Honor Museum in Walnut Ridge, where he worked with original documents from the 1940s and contributed to future exhibits for the World War II museum, as well as its website.
He also gained valuable experience in the behind-the-scenes work of local museums. “I have really enjoyed my time at the Wings of Honor Museum, and I plan to continue volunteering throughout this fall semester,” said Smith.
The WBC senior and Walnut Ridge native, who plans to teach social studies at an Arkansas high school after graduation, helped catalogue and digitize the museum’s primary sources from the war years in Arkansas.
“The huge amounts of newspaper clippings and biographical information I read also gave me a better understanding of the typical soldier from Arkansas,” remarked Smith. “Many local soldiers would often write letters to the editor in The Times Dispatch letting everyone know how they were. I found their 1940s vernacular very amusing.”
Smith’s internship marks a continued partnership between the WBC History Department and the Wings of Honor Museum. Beginning in 2010, Daniel Spillman of the Williams history faculty and Harold Johnson, who is head of the museum’s board of directors, have found creative opportunities for collaboration between WBC history students and the museum.
Since then, Williams students have researched and created numerous temporary exhibits at the museum. “It is a great place to learn about the events leading up to WWII, history of the war, personal information and stories on many of the men who served, and Arkansas’ contribution to America’s victory,” said Johnson.
This fall more than twenty undergraduates in Spillman’s Arkansas history class are assisting with various museum projects. “It helps students to study the past in a creative way that they enjoy, and it also highlights our rich local history,” explained Spillman.
The partnership benefits both Williams students and the local museum. “Volunteers are a great asset to the museum,” Johnson explained. “We have no paid staff and depend on volunteers to help with research, laying out exhibits and various other tasks.”
For Smith, the experience this summer was very rewarding. “Doing volunteer work, any kind of volunteer work, helps to bolster one’s practical experience and understanding in ways a normal college course cannot often achieve,” he said.
“I would enthusiastically encourage future students to do something similar. I am very happy and proud to have donated my time in a way that has furthered my education and, more importantly, helped others in preserving local history.”
“Grant is a standout student in the History Department here at Williams, and we’re very pleased that his internship at the museum went so well this summer,” said Spillman.
The Wings of Honor Museum, located at Walnut Ridge Regional Airport, commemorates the history of the WWII-era Army Air Force flying school, which trained some 5,000 pilots during World War II. The Williams campus now sits on part of the former base.