Bob McClendon is a walking history book on America’s wars
When Bob McLendon joined the Army in 1962, his intention, his hope was to do a tour of duty in Vietnam.
"That’s why I joined," McLendon said. "I was a soldier and I wanted to go to Vietnam."
McLendon re-upped twice thinking each time he would be assigned to the war zone. It never happened. He served his country stateside. That was a great disappointment to him and, for a long time, it kind of gnawed at him.
Then one day, a friend told him that maybe serving in Vietnam was not what he was supposed to do.
"Maybe ‘this’ is what you are supposed to do," his friend said. "If you had gone to Vietnam, you probably wouldn’t be here today."
"This" is Conecuh River Depot Military Museum in Troy and McLendon has reconciled himself to the fact that what he is doing in the way of preserving the history of America’s wars is an important endeavor.
The military museum was a long time in coming, but McLendon’s interest in war memorabilia can be traced back to his father, Robert G. McLendon, who served in the infantry during World War II.
"My dad served in the European Theater," McLendon said. "He went to the war as a captain and came back as a colonel."
But, before he came home, the elder McLendon sent German items of war home in a German ammo box. The box was a source of great interest and growing curiosity for young McLendon and the seeds of interest in military history were embedded in the box.
McLendon’s service in the U.S. Army and the interest cultivated while "digging" through his dad’s war memorabilia were the motivating factors in his desire to open a military museum.
"After I got out of the Army, I went to work in law enforcement in Gainesville, FL, where I was living at the time," McLendon said. "From time to time during those 36 years in law enforcement, I considered opening a military museum but I couldn’t find any place I could afford to buy or rent."
It was not until McLendon came "home" to Pike County in 2002 that he realized a military museum was something he could do.
"My McLendon ancestors came to Pike County in 1824 and settled just east of Brundidge," he said. "My great-great-grandfather was ordained as a Baptist preacher and preached at Salem Baptist Church in Brundidge and helped build churches at Ramer and at Henderson. So, coming to Pike County was like coming home."
McLendon thought his idea of establishing a military museum could take root in the place his ancestors called home. His history was there in rural Pike County, the place where he was going to put down physical roots.
But, McLendon was sidetracked for a while. He had not counted on being bitten by a rattlesnake and the consequences of such a venomous act.
"When I finally got over the snakebite enough I could get out again and do things, I volunteered at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama doing living history programs," he said.
As a member of several re-enactment groups, McLendon was a walking history book on America’s wars. He had special interests in the War Between the States, both North and South, and World War II. He also had participated in re-enactments of the Creek Indian War and the French and Indian War. And, he had a German footlocker filled with memorabilia from World War II just sitting there not really doing service to anyone.
"The Pike County Chamber of Commerce occupied a small building on the grounds of the Pioneer Museum," McLendon said. "When the Chamber moved to another location, I rented the building with the idea of opening a military museum."
For McLendon, opening the Conecuh River Depot museum of military history was not a business venture.
"You don’t make money doing anything with history," he said with a smile. "You dabble in history for other reasons. I enjoy learning about our nation’s history because it’s a part of who I am — of who we are as Americans. And, as a nation, as a people, we learn from history. It’s important that our history is preserved.
"The people who are most against war are our veterans because they have experienced it. They know what war is really like, but they know we have to sometimes go to war to prevent something worse from happening."
McLendon spends a lot of hours at the Conecuh Depot River military museum among the spoils of America’s wars because there are no real war trophies.
Each artifact was purchased with the suffering, grief and loss that comes with war.
"There’s a story behind everything in this museum," McLendon said. "We don’t know many of those stories, but I like to share those we do know because they are about the men and women who served our country during its most difficult times. My dad’s here and a lot of my cousins and friends. Strangers will come in and tell me about their experiences. It’s a learning experience for me."
McLendon said those who visit the military museum are usually most interested in the World War II and Vietnam displays.
"And, there’s always interest in the Civil War, especially the South, because most families with roots in the South sent someone into battle and because most of the war was fought in the South," he said.
The museum has a gift shop that includes t-shirts, flags, patches, artwork and books about the different American wars. One book titled "History of the 53rd Regiment Alabama Volunteer Cavalry," was penned by McLendon and inspired by the service of his great-great-grandfather who fought with the 53rd Regiment Alabama Volunteer Cavalry.
Bob McLendon spends many hours a week at the Conecuh River Depot military museum as he continues to build displays and do research giving him even greater insight into America’s wars and those who fought them.
McLendon never got the call to duty in Vietnam, but his service to his country is an ongoing one. His commitment to preserve the history of America’s wars and the stories of the warriors is in itself a "call to duty" and one he honors proudly.
Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.