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National World War I Museum


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When I was a kid, World War I was something distant, yet still within living memory of those who had survived it.


It was the war of our Grandfather's generation.


It belonged to old men, and generally musty uniforms, rusting gear, and decaying monuments.


The only thing that brought it to life were blurred images from poorly shown movies.


Even reciting "In Flander's Fields, the poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row..." every memorial day somehow did not bring it into focus or reality.


Invariably the museum displays that commemorated the event were poorly done and equally poorly lit.


And the the conflict lost out in importance to World War II. That of course, along with Korea, was the war of our Father's and Mother's generation. But somehow, even the American Civil War sparked more imagination than World War I.


Somehow, the monumental events of 1914 to 1919 failed to register with me, even as I was studying the history of the 20th Century.


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This gap in our history is now filled by the National World War I Museum, located at the 1926 erected Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.


This is a world class museum, using the latest technology and display techniques to highlight the chaos and turmoil of the period.


Your son or daughter could walk into this museum without the slightest idea of what happened in World War I and leave with a good understanding of how the unstoppable forces of the era (nationalism, industrialization, militarism, social reform, and expansionism) came together in a monumental clash that shattered nations and changed the world forever.


For those well versed in history, it provides an excellent review and overview, bringing together the story of many nations. It also features an extroidinary collection that alone is well worth the visit.




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After descending down the external walkway to the entrance of the museum, one enters the display areas by crossing the "glass bridge". This symbolic walk backwards through time takes you over an eternally blooming field with 9,000 poppies... each one representing 1,000 deaths during the war. If you look closely below the soil, one sees the remains of fading trench lines and debris from the conflict.


A movie introduces the periods, and provides a concise discussion that explains the multiple pressures that built to the point where a single political assasination could spark a global conflict.


Entering the display area, one feels as if they have been drawn into the printed pages of a history book... written time lines decorate the walls, with interactive maps providing a narration of the progress of the conflict. The displays of equipment, and oversized photographs of people and equipment serve as the illustrations as you walk the unfolding events.



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To its credit, the larger amount of floor space and display area is devoted to the clash between the Central Powers and the Allies from 1914 to 1917, which of course is prior to the entry of the United States.


For the purposes of this Forum, I am going to skip forward to the era of the American involvement of 1917 to 1919.


Entering this section of the museum, one is greated by a huge wall of US propaganda posters. As most readers will know, there was initially a significant resistance to entering the War at all, let alone on the side of the Allies. Posters exploded across the country to bring public opinion in favor of intervention.


The posters themselves range from iconic (as in "I Want You for the US Army" by George Montgomery Flagg" to the odd and somewhat bizarre.




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Additional posters...it seems every organization in the country was involved...




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The role of women was about to change dramatically...


As a side note, the Joan of Arc poster is almost a direct take from a French poster also featuring the historic saviour of France!



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The Central Powers greatly underestimated the industrial potential of the United States, both in supplying itself and the Allies. Exhibits discuss the role of wartime production. These numbers here are just for the American Army.


As an example, a bayonet scabbard still in its original wrapper, next to one in pristine condition.



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Industrial capacity was one thing...


The US armed forces were small compared to other countries of the time. This display shows items from the training an build up of the ranks.




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Soon enough an army was raised and on it's way...


Displayed, ever on parade, are uniforms from many of the divisions...


For those with an interest in insignia of the time, the collection is quite remarkable...





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And more...


Note the "IV" in the center of the 4th ID patch, along with how it is displayed on the shoulder. The individual stitching of the stripes on the 3rd ID patch can be seen as well.




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I believe this is a USMC uniform based on it's color and the chevrons... the insignia is quite detailed.



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Uniforms from African-American units were highlighted in a special display... note the French helmet from when the unit was detached for service with the French Army.


Note the serial number on the Medic armband.






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America's fledgling Air Corps...including a full sized Nieuport 17 with the Indian Head insignia of the Lafayett Escadrille...





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Air Corps... note the squadron pin above the wings... a cat with a raised back riding on top of a bomb...






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Getting back to the ground troops, the displays showed a full range of equipment ranging from common to rare...





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All of this to build a complete soldier...


Plus a selection of dog tags.




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World War I represented a significant leap in the role of machines and technology in warfare, including artillery. Cannons were now aided by more sophisticated ranging devices, longer range shells, developed recoil mechanisms.





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For all of the improvements, many artillery pieces were still horse drawn.




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Transportion itself was mixed between horse wagons and new motor vehicles.




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Proof of America's mass production capability... a Ford Model T panel truck.


Interestingly, as the sign notes, Henry Ford refused to paint them OD at the factory due to his anti-war sentiments, but still managed to sell them to the Army.




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However, the die was cast for the mechanization of future wars.


Like a ghost appearing out of the night... a Renault FT model 1917 tank, still wearing it's original camouflage.


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