8 years later, military memorial becomes reality

Posted: August 3, 2014 at 3:34 a.m.

A statue of a Desert Storm soldier is dedicated Saturday outside My Friend’s Place bar and grill at Military and MacArthur drives in North Little Rock.

What began as an idea between friends almost eight years ago to honor military veterans took its final form Saturday.

On Dec. 7, 2006 -- Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day -- Bill Yeates sat in My Friend's Place, his bar and grill in the shadows of Camp Robinson, and talked with friends about recognizing the anniversary and the many military personnel they saw who either stopped in or passed by the eatery near Camp Robinson.

On Saturday, Yeates saw his idea become reality. A bronze statue of a Desert Storm soldier was dedicated as a Salute to the Military, created during the past 18 months by the Randolph Rose Collection of Yonkers, N.Y.

The statue stands outside Yeates' eatery, My Friend's Place, 5501 MacArthur Drive, where Military Drive crosses MacArthur Drive and leads north toward the main entrance to Camp Robinson.

Thousands of service personnel and civilian workers go through that entrance each day.

Yeates, who spearheaded the privately funded project, said in a pre-dedication interview last week that the statue covers all branches of the military.

"It's for the troops who have served, are serving and that will serve," he said.

Camp Robinson did not play a role in the organizing the memorial and by policy could not endorse the project. But soldiers will see it.

About 1,800 uniformed personnel, contractors and civilian employees work at Camp Robinson full time, said Maj. Matt Snead, public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard. The Professional Education Center at Camp Robinson also averages about 30,000 students from across the United States and three territories annually. Plus, the camp hosts conferences.

"A lot of folks from other states and territories come here to receive training," Snead said. "Really, for those coming into Camp Robinson, that's the bulk of the traffic -- the students coming here to train."

Getting the project off the ground wasn't easy.

Yeates took his idea to then-Mayor Patrick Hays in 2007.

The former mayor recommended that the North Little Rock City Council form a commission to create a veterans memorial but backed off from supporting the spot outside Yeates' bar and grill for a city project. During the early part of the memorial selection process, Yeates withdrew his site from consideration.

Yeates' project became the forerunner to the city-sponsored Veterans Memorial in Laman Plaza on the grounds of the William F. Laman Library, 2801 Orange St. Officials dedicated the memorial in November 2010.

"If I had known then what I know now about all of the politics and everything that surrounded it, I don't know if I'd do it," Yeates said. "But, after it's all over with now, I'm glad I did it."

City Alderman Debi Ross, who took over as chairman of the Veterans Commission after Yeates withdrew his proposal, recalled last week that North Little Rock leaders wanted to ensure a city-sponsored memorial be on a site best accessible to the public.

"I just think as far as large groups go, that was one of the concerns about it being there," Ross said. "At Laman Plaza, there was just more space. That was my understanding when I took over."

But Ross said she is glad the city now has two sites to honor the military. The 20-by-20-foot site around the statue at My Friend's Place was accepted as public property by the City Council in August 2011 to allow public access on the business's otherwise private property.

"It's a great location," Ross said of the statue site near Camp Robinson. "It looks really good. I'm happy about having it."

Yeates said that his project drew attention from out-of-state military personnel from across the United States who had been at Camp Robinson.

"And with the public access easement grant [by the city], the public can feel free to visit it anytime," he said.

Metro on 08/03/2014