Lighting blazed across the sky and explosions lit up the night as hundreds of Fort Collins residents and CSU students shuffled through a simulated World War I trench, accompanied by the sound of gunshots and Kevin Costnerâ€™s voice.
Minutes later, they emerged into the bright Colorado sunlight and signed the guestbook, having made it through the Honoring Our History World War I Traveling Gallery, a mobile exhibit that made its 11th stop of a 75-city tour Tuesday on CSUâ€™s campus.
â€œItâ€™s sort of a forgotten war,â€ said Ed Jakvbauskas, a Fort Collins resident and Korean War veteran. â€œWe should not forget about it because we keep on making the same mistakes.â€
Jakvbauskas grew up in the 1930s, and said he knew many people who fought and died in WWI.
The traveling gallery came from a partnership between the National World War I Museum and Waddell and Reed, a mutual fund company whose two founders, Chauncey Waddell and Cameron Reed, were WWI veterans.
â€œBeing here is kind of like a day off,â€ joked Jared Best, the managing principal of Fort Collinsâ€™ Waddell and Reed branch and one of many Waddell and Reed employees who helped stage the event.
The exhibit is inside of a converted 18-wheeler, and it takes five to six hours to set up, according to Jimmy Boble, who drives the truck and also manages the tour.
In addition to a life-size replica of a WWI trench, the gallery also features uniforms, medals, tools and weapons, items culled from the WWI museum and Chauncey Waddell and Cameron Reedâ€™s personal collections.
The displays are put into context by timelines and extensive histories, including videos narrated by Kevin Costner, who sits on the board of the WWI museum.
â€œA lot of the people who come to the event are older people, veterans who really have a tie to what this war meant,â€ Boble says. â€œIâ€™ve seen people leave the exhibit in tears, because they have such a tie to what happened.â€
The exhibit is expected to travel 35,000 miles a year, and has been on the road since July. It will make its final stop in May 2012 near the New York Stock Exchange.
Junior social work major Jared Huhnâ€™s great grandfather was a lieutenant in World War I, and Huhn and his father, Jeff, visited the exhibit to get a taste of their family history.
â€œHe never really talked about the war,â€ Jeff Huhn said. â€œâ€¦ I do remember one story he told me about how he was sent to a trench to get some sleep. They shoved people in the trenches so close together that he couldnâ€™t sleep very well, so he ended up elbowing this guy repeatedly, because he wasnâ€™t being given any room.â€
â€œBut when he woke up,â€ he added, â€œhe found out that it was a dead German soldier.â€
Listening to stories like this and sharing the warâ€™s history are the main purposes of the exhibit, Best said. Jakvbauskas added that, as the war approaches its centennial anniversary in 2014, itâ€™s more important to raise awareness and expose a new generation to the horrors of WWI.
â€œItâ€™s cool to see where my family came from,â€ Jared Huhn said.
The exhibit is making another stop on Wednesday at the Harmony Club in Timnath before driving south to Denver. For more information and the exhibitâ€™s schedule are available at www.honoring ourhistory.com.
Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte can be reached at email@example.com.