World War I began more than a century ago, but the West Virginia Division of Culture and History hopes the Culture Center’s new exhibit sheds some light on the war to end all wars.
“I think it’s magnificent; it really puts you there,” Randall Reid-Smith, the division’s commissioner, said of the exhibit. “The fact that they have the famous trench warfare as a central part of it really makes everything else stand out.”
The exhibit, “World War I: West Virginia in the War to End All Wars,” officially opened Saturday in the Culture Center as part of the division’s 40th anniversary celebration. The celebration featured limited-edition Blenko glass vases for sale, a behind-the-scenes tour of the State Museum’s archives collection, and arts and crafts for children in the Museum’s Education Center.
The World War I exhibit remained the focus, however, with its dozens of weapons, uniforms and other items from the State Museum’s collection. Pieces in the exhibit include various possessions of West Virginians in the war, like Charleston’s Capt. John Thorburn Morgan. There are also rifles and artillery shells and descriptions of World War I topics such as chemical weapons and the Western and Eastern Fronts.
Dennis Davis, cabinet secretary of the state Department of Veterans Assistance, said the artillery on display piqued his interest because much of his military background involved handling artillery.
“These shells resembled in many ways what we were using in the Vietnam War,” he said. “I’m very impressed with that.”
Davis said the uniforms on display, though probably not comfortable due to their bulk, were designed to keep soldiers warm while in the trenches.
West Virginia National Guard Brig. Gen. Harrison Gilliam said he was impressed by the museum staff recreating part of a trench, which served as a backdrop for several exhibit items.
“The trench is an important point for all of this,” Gilliam said. “These men didn’t live in tents. They fought and lived in a trench. I’m glad [the staff] took the time to do this and commemorated their sacrifice.”
Reid-Smith said the 40th anniversary celebration was much different from the 35th anniversary’s celebration, which had past commissioners talk about the division’s history, accomplishments and future.
The division’s history remains bright, Reid-Smith said, despite experiencing some cuts in the 2017-18 budget bill that passed in June. He said much of his confidence stems from the division’s renewed focus to reach young people.
“What we’re doing is growing the future of West Virginia with kids that are proud of what we do,” he said.
Davis said he hopes both young and old can take something away from the exhibit and have it serve as a reminder for how World War I changed the course of history.
“Out of sight, out of mind is quite often the rule of today,” he said. “But this is an excellent reminder of what transpired. It’s important to remember what happened in the past so we don’t repeat these kinds of things in the future.”
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