Honoring our history

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Aug 302011
 
Authors: Allison Sylte

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 Costner’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 CSU’s campus.

“It’s sort of a forgotten war,” said Ed Jakvbauskas, a Fort Collins resident and Korean War veteran. “We should not forget about it because we keep on making the same mistakes.”

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.

“Being here is kind of like a day off,” joked Jared Best, the managing principal of Fort Collins’ 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 Reed’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.

“A lot of the people who come to the event are older people, veterans who really have a tie to what this war meant,” Boble says. “I’ve seen people leave the exhibit in tears, because they have such a tie to what happened.”

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 Huhn’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.

“He never really talked about the war,” Jeff Huhn said. “… 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 couldn’t sleep very well, so he ended up elbowing this guy repeatedly, because he wasn’t being given any room.”

“But when he woke up,” he added, “he found out that it was a dead German soldier.”

Listening to stories like this and sharing the war’s history are the main purposes of the exhibit, Best said. Jakvbauskas added that, as the war approaches its centennial anniversary in 2014, it’s more important to raise awareness and expose a new generation to the horrors of WWI.
“It’s cool to see where my family came from,” 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 exhibit’s schedule are available at www.honoring ourhistory.com.

Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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