Our purpose has continued to be to educate, deepen gratitude and pay tribute to those who served. That’s what we hope this exhibit is allowing us to do. —Robert Freeman
PROVO — While giving a tour of the new World War I exhibit recently, Brigham Young University professor Robert Freeman reflected on the sentiment that the "Great War" was supposed to be the war to end all wars.
"The great irony is that it was the first substantial war, the war that all other wars grew out of," Freeman said.
It's one of the main themes illustrated in the new exhibit "The Great War: A Centennial Rembrance," located in Special Collections on the first floor of BYU's Harold B. Lee Library.
The exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. The exhibit, created by Freeman and Special Collections curator Kristi Young, will be on display until spring 2015. Admission is free.
Visitors to the exhibit are greeted by animated red poppies dotting the entrance. Inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrae, "Remembrance poppies" have been used to commemorate soldiers who died in the war.
Last August, Freeman attended an event in London where 880,000 ceramic poppies were put on display next to the Tower of London, one for each of the British soldiers who died between 1914-1918.
"For Britain, the cost of the war was so high. The impact was tremendous," Freeman said. "The poppies have a powerful message as it relates to World War I."
Freeman said the exhibit is designed as a sequential story, beginning with the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sofia. The couple was killed by Gavrilo Princip with a Colt 45 handgun model that was designed by John Browning, who came from of a family of gunsmiths in Ogden, Utah. A similar weapon, once owned by Col. Richard W. Young, a graduate of West Point and an influential Latter-day Saint during World War I, is on display. It carries an inscription to him from the Browning family.
"Zoom ahead to end of the war; the machine gun that comes into play is a Browning design," Freeman said. "Browning weaponry is the backbone of the Army’s arsenal for the next several wars."
Across from a timeline of the war, visitors will see the green uniform worn by chaplains and the bright red uniform worn by Canadian officer Hugh B. Brown, who later served in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Freeman was given the uniform by Brown's son after speaking to a Kiwanis Club. The son no longer had use for it, and Freeman gratefully accepted it on behalf of BYU.
Three Latter-day Saint chaplains featured in the exhibit are B.H. Roberts, Herbert Maw and Calvin S. Smith, son of President Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the church. Visitors can hear an interview with Maw, who later served two terms as governor of Utah.
Another prominent Mormon featured in the exhibit is Pvt. Thomas C. Neibaur, the first Latter-day Saint recipient of the Medal of Honor. (His story is summarized in a 2012 Deseret News article.)
"Here is a man who demonstrates such valor on the battlefield, comes home to a hero's welcome, but is disabled and unable to feed his family. He dies impoverished, and his kids go to an orphan's home," Freeman said. "It's a poignant story."
Next to Neibaur is a tribute to Clinton Larson, a BYU track athlete who served during the war and represented the United States at the Inter-Allied Games in Paris. His display includes his track uniform, running spikes, a bugle, camera and boots, among other items.
There is also a display listing the names of nearly 500 BYU students who served in the war.
"We draw a circle around the experience at BYU at the time and the impact on the school during the war," Freeman said.2 comments on this story
The exhibit also features a variety of artifacts, individual stories, letters, journals and photos. One display is titled "A War of Firsts" and identifies a number of warfare aspects introduced in World War I, including aviation combat, aircraft carriers, tanks, flame throwers, chemical warfare and trench warfare.
Freeman hopes those who visit the exhibit come away with three things, he said.
"Our purpose has continued to be to educate, deepen gratitude and pay tribute to those who served," Freeman said. "That’s what we hope this exhibit is allowing us to do."
Freeman, the director of the Saints At War Project, is collecting individual accounts of World War I veterans and plans to publish them in a book in the coming years. For more information on how to submit a story, visit saintsatwar.com.
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