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War Memorial Stadium | Happy 75th anniversary to the stadium that almost wasn't

What’s a proper gift for an anniversary? How about a look back at cherished memories of a place that has become an Arkansas heirloom – War Memorial Stadium.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — On Saturday, Arkansas fans will fill War Memorial Stadium, cheering the Hogs in their season opener against Western Carolina

The game serves as a celebration of War Memorial’s 75th anniversary. Fans will hope for a showing as good as the one that opened the stadium in 1948 when Arkansas beat Abilene Christian 40-6.

Back then, there was a chance that instead of football games, Arkansans would be playing carnival games where the stadium now sits.

That land was first offered to the State Fair Commission in 1944.

“If they had taken this land for the fair in 1944, this stadium wouldn’t be here today," Director of the Division of Arkansas Heritage Marty Ryall said.

Ryall is also the current commissioner of War Memorial Stadium. Well-versed in the stadium's history, he'll be the first to tell you how the stars aligned to make the stadium happen.

“It was a convergence of things that allowed it to happen,” Ryall said.

First off, there was the end of the war.

"There was a movement to do something to honor the veterans," Ryall said. "And then, at the same time, there was a growing need for the Arkansas Razorbacks to have a bigger stadium.”

According to Ryall, the tipping point came when former coach and athletic director John Barnhill made a move.

“Texas was scheduled to play in Little Rock," Ryall said. "He moved the game to Memphis. He said Little Rock doesn’t have a stadium big enough to hold us. We’re going to Memphis to play the game.”

And they did, which prompted the state legislature to act immediately. They funded half the cost and took bids from four cities to provide the other half.

Her,e once again, fate stepped in.

"There were four cities that bid on it," Ryall said. "Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs and West Memphis."

Little Rock was the highest bidder, and the stadium immediately began construction.

It would get dedicated twice — the first year before the first game and in the second year when President Harry Truman came to Little Rock and focused on the veterans whom the stadium honors.

Truman would be the first of a long line of big-time personalities that would go on to visit War Memorial Stadium.

Billy Graham came twice, selling out the stadium both times. In his second appearance, he was accompanied by Johnny Cash and then Gov. Bill Clinton. The Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Guns and Roses and so many more would visit.

The stadium developed a star-studded reputation.

War Memorial Stadium is filled with memories, and more are sure to come as Arkansas hosts Western Carolina in its season opener on Saturday at noon.

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