Military History Won't Fade on Their Watch; A Museum in Green Cove Springs Is Men's Bid to Ensure It

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

GREEN COVE SPRINGS -- In 1943 Bud Nelson found a bazooka that had fallen off a railroad car next to some tracks in Virginia.

That lost weapon became the beginning of a lifelong hobby for Nelson, now 76, who spent the next six decades collecting military memorabilia.

About a decade ago, Nelson said, his wife took a look at their overstuffed garage and asked: "What are you going to do with all this junk?"

The answer to that question is taking shape in a World War II-era Quonset hut in Reynolds Park, just outside Green Cove Springs.

Nelson is president and his fellow collector Herb Steigelman is curator of the Military Museum of North Florida, which they plan to open at the end of October in the 4,000-square-foot Quonset hut at what was a naval air station auxiliary airfield during World War II.

The airfield was named Lee Field in honor of Benjamin Lee, a former Jacksonville resident and Navy aviator who was killed in action two weeks before the end of World War I.

Steigelman, who served in the Marines from 1963 to 1991 and retired as a lieutenant colonel, isn't sure what purpose the Quonset hut served during World War II. He speculates it was used for ammunition storage.

Thus it is perhaps appropriate that the interior has been partitioned by stacking empty ammunition boxes donated by Camp Blanding.

"We couldn't afford drywall," Steigelman said.

The museum, which Steigelman credits to the "passion and drive" of Nelson, actually opened briefly last year in space donated by a retirement community. But the county forced them to close that museum because of zoning issues.

Steigelman said Green Cove Springs City Manager Don Bowles allowed them to store the collection in an old firehouse and helped find the new location. Reynolds Park is leasing them the facility for 10 years at $1 a year, Steigelman said. …