Northern Michigan in Focus: Remembering World War I
There are no Americans left who fought in World War I.
As the epic conflict hits a milestone, there’s a place you can learn about the war and those who fought in in it.
It’s this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.
“On April 21 we open our exhibit for World War I and we decided to do that as a commemoration of the 100th year the United States entered the war, World War I conflict,” explains Danyeal Dorr, Besser Museum collections manager and exhibits curator.
June 21, 2017 marks the 100th year since United States men touched ground in France and helped win World War I, but at a huge price.
“Referred to as the ‘Great War,’ the war to end all wars,” says Danyeal.
But in many respects a forgotten war, overshadowed by World War II, but the Besser Museum in Alpena is giving people a chance to remember.
“It has been overshadowed by World War II and, in terms of history books, a lot of people just forget it. It seems like a blip on the map compared to the horrors we saw in World War II, yet so much of what happened in World War I echoes what happened today just with the technology developments,” explains Danyeal.
Like medicine and aviation.
“In terms of World War I, it really improved technology in terms of amputation and burn victims and how we deal with chemical gases, even with airplanes. The Wright brothers had their first successful flight in 1903 and just in the years of World War I, we start with planes having no guns and no munitions and by the end of the war we had planes that could maneuver much more tightly and were armed with larger machine guns and even bombardment properties,” says Danyeal.
Even horrible ways to kill one another
“Machine guns were first year used in World War I, tanks, and several other armaments that had pretty nasty reputations but were successful for their application,” explains Danyeal. “War is hell, and we’re always trying to improve our capacity to be better than the other guy, a bigger stick as it were.”
Locally, in Northern Michigan, Camp Grayling played a huge part in the war.
“The correlation between World War I and Camp Grayling is kind of cool for my nerdy historian point of view,” says Danyeal. “Camp Grayling was actually a large tract of land that a lumbar gentleman in 1913 donated this huge tract of land to the U.S. government for training capacities, but by 1914 it was being utilized as a training ground for the Michigan National Guard, and by 1917 it was a training ground for the troops headed over to Europe.”
Three million men died in World War I. Looking through the exhibit gives you a tangible look into what they went through.
“So many of these men gave us their lives to protect their freedom and protect our freedom. If the war had gone a different way, we’d be having an entirely different conversation right now and in an entirely different language. Yet conflicts like World War I, like I said, completely re-write the way we look at global history, technology and even warfare itself at this point. So it’s important to know that even a little guy from Northern Michigan made a huge impact that we can still see you today.”
This Saturday night at the Besser Museum a collector of war memorabilia, John Dove of the Dove Museum, will be doing a question and answer session on World War I.
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