DES MOINES, Iowa — Thursday is the 100th anniversary of the United Stars entering into World War I and the State Historical Society of Iowa is opening a new exhibit to mark the occasion. The exhibit is titled “Iowa and the Great War.” State Curator Leo Landis said they wanted to do something special to honor Iowans support of war efforts.
“Our exhibit ‘Iowa and the Great War’ tells stories of Iowans’ service overseas, service on the home front, and then Iowa after the war time,” Landis said.
The staff chose artifacts to represent each of those themes starting with weaponry.
“We have a German made MG 08 machine gun. It was the style that many Americans and many Iowa soldiers were facing as they would come out of the trenches. It would shoot as many as eight shells per second, but usually six or seven. And this is one that was captured and then brought back to Iowa and used to raise money as part of the war effort. It was part of the Liberty Bond Drive,” Landis said.
There are several military jackets in this particular collection as well including one worn by James Norman Hall, he was a pilot that actually started serving before the United States entered the war.
“Then in May of 1918 after we had been in the war for just over a year, he was flying a mission and was shot down by the German planes. So this jacket is the jacket he was wearing that day in May, May 5, 1918 when he was shot down. So the rips that you see through it are from the shrapnel when he was shot down. He was captured and kept in a German prison camp through the end of the war and then he came back and ended up living in Tahiti for the rest of his life,” Landis said. Hall also co-authored the book, “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
Another jacket with an interesting story is that of James Morris.
Landis said he was a lawyer in Des Moines before he enlisted.
“He enlisted to be a black officer, he was trained at Fort Des Moines and then he went over to France and served on behalf of the United States. He was injured late in the war. So he was wounded in battle and that’s a story that is directly related to a central Iowan and his training, the first time African Americans were allowed to be trained as officers,” Landis said.
The exhibit also features post war artifacts that show the culture shift of the 1920’s.
“One of the things that happens after the war and after the Allied victory, is people are ready to return to normalcy, but there are new currents in American society that are changing the way we live whether it be shorter dresses worn by women with shorter hair, called flappers. Their dress styles were usually above the knee and that was something that hadn’t been seen before in American culture,” Landis said.
The exhibit has several school tours on Thursday and will have an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, April 7. The exhibit will be up through May 1.