World War I exhibit starts Monday at Public Archives


DOVER — Approximately 10,000 Delawareans served in the United States military in World War I, including 270 who died.

At home, First State factories produced munitions, ships and canned food, among other contributions.

The USS Delaware battleship patrolled the Chesapeake Bay looking for German U-boat submarines, and protected allied ship convoys navigating the North Atlantic.

Dr, James Speakman of Milford provided dentistry to U.S. troops and detailed his stay with illustrations, photographs and postcards all collected in a scrapbook.

On Monday, the Delaware Public Archives will shine more light on the conflict once known as “the war to end all wars.”

A historical treasure trove of documents and artifacts will be unveiled at a public ceremony on Monday morning.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock take part in the 9 a.m. event at the Public Archives building at 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Dover.

With no more living World War I veterans to converse with, Public Archivist Steven Marz said their families have generously donated many items to a collection he describes as “breathtaking.”

The new exhibit adds to the Delaware-related 10.1 million documents, over one million photos and 7,500 volumes of books at the state’s public archives.

While that nation’s gung ho spirit was reflected in the widely recognized “Over There” tune upon entry into the war in 1917, songs transitioned with the reality of long casualty lists, and Archives will play a variety of them during Monday’s ceremony to set the mood changing of the times. A 78 rpm Victrola used “back then” will be displayed, but not used.

“Eventually the pessimism of war changed the songs into themes of ‘I miss home, miss my loved ones, can’t wait to come home and into your arms’ “ Mr. Marz said.

While the country was under a total segregation policy during World War I, Delaware’s 1,400 African-American soldiers served with distinction while suffering 37 fatal casualties.

“They were well respected and recognized by the French government for the ferocity of their fighting and received many awards for their (bravery and contributions,” Mr. Marz said.

The battlefield success marked early steps toward gaining an equal status in American society.

“They went over to support their nation’s interests in what was the beginning struggle to fight for their own freedoms,” Mr. Marz said. “They were able to show they were as good as anyone else who was there to support protecting the interests of the nation.”

Also on display will be over 85 pieces of “trench art,” decorative items such as ashtrays, vases and letter openers made of war materials such as bullets, shell fragments and other items. Returning veterans who fashioned the artwork often as a form of therapy while then experiencing then-undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

More information is available online at www.Archives.Delaware.Gov.

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