The United States entered World War I in 1917 and that 100-year anniversary makes this a perfect time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. No one is left who lived through it to talk about the “War to End All Wars.” For many the war seems so remote, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what happened, how it led to World War II and its importance today. That’s a job this museum does well with a gripping array of exhibits, artifacts and art that explains the complex occurrences that led to the war, the unbelievable carnage.
The memorial was built in 1926, but the museum opened in 2006. Visitors enter by walking on plexiglass floor over a field of poppies. You could spend hours here partly because exhibits cover not only the U.S. involvement but that of the many countries involved across the whole world. There’s something to interest everyone from weaponry, to the uniforms and equipment of soldiers and nurses, medical techniques developed during the war and more.
Not familiar with World War I history? Even if you’re not visiting this museum soon, there are several terrific books I recommend: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a non-fiction classic and you can’t beat the classic fiction books All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my all-time favorites.) Also suggested, a new book The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin.
The subject of this photo challenge is to share a photo that for “foregoes the straightforward.” No one did that better than Frank Lloyd Wright, as you can see from these pictures of a Wright-designed house in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO, near St. Louis. It was completed in 1955 for Russell and Ruth Krause. I couldn’t photograph the interior of the home, but the house is famous for its Wright-designed furnishings, which are odd and uncomfortable-looking, as full of zig-zags as the exterior. But, I think creativity was Wright’s goal, not comfort.
Wright’s life was even more fascinating than his architectural ideas and it’s been the subject of a number of books that I highly recommend, especially if you’re going to visit any of his famous buildings. Be sure to read the non-fiction book Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill, and the fiction works Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and T.C. Boyle’s The Women.
If you can’t make it to France to observe the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, you can see it through the eyes of combat artists who were there in an exhibit at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, MO.
Seventy years ago, on 6 June 1944, the Western Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France, opening a second front against Nazi Germany. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the massive operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies had gained a foot-hold in Normandy, but at an unbelievable cost; more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded. Yet, their efforts opened the way for more than 100,000 soldiers to land and begin the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.
D-Day has been the topic of countless books (See my post on what to read before visiting the Normandy beaches) and movies including The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. It was also the subject of a little-known group of artists, the U.S. Navy combat artists. The paintings of three of them—Mitchell Jamieson, Alexander Russo, and Dwight Shepler—are on display in an exhibit at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, entitled “D-Day Normandy: Operation Overlord.” The paintings are on loan from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
During the war, newsreels and photos dominated coverage of events, but the generals wanted artists to interpret the war, which is quite different from straight-up photography. Painters can vividly depict subjects beyond the range of of the camera lens such as action at night, in foul weather, or action widely scattered over the sea or in the air. They could also omit the confidential technical details a camera might reveal, thus making many interesting subjects unavailable for publication. So, select soldiers from all branches of the military carried pencils, paints, and sable brushes into battle along with their rifles and fought furiously to communicate the experience of war to the public. “I was scared most of the time,” said combat artist Edward Reep in a PBS documentary (and book), They Drew Fire. “But I always put myself in a position where I could be part of the fighting. That was my job.”
The paintings in the National Churchill Museum portray everything from the horrors of the initial landing in which American soldiers literally fought an uphill battle, to the GIs building an artificial harbor on the beach, to the capture of German soldiers. It’s a lasting record of how soldiers lived and died during the invasion, all on exhibit in Fulton.
Why Fulton, Missouri, you may wonder. In 1946 Winston Churchill delivered one of the most significant speeches of his long career at Westminster College in Fulton. (President Harry Truman, a Missouri native, joined him on the platform.) That address, formally entitled, “The Sinews of Peace,” but best known for Churchill’s pronouncement that “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent,” marked the beginning of the Cold War.
In the 1960s Westminster College set out to mark what would be the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s visit and to really make something of its connection to the event. The college settled on the the idea of moving a Christopher Wren designed Church from London. St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury, had stood in London since 1677 but was badly damaged during the London Blitz and narrowly escaped demolition. Instead, Westminster College moved the church stone-by-stone to its campus and rebuilt it to Wren’s original specifications.
The National Churchill Museum resides beneath the church. Its displays were recently rebuilt to incorporate the use of technology to better bring to life the story of Winston Churchill and his world. It features permanent and changing exhibits, along with a variety of related activities and was recognized by the United States Congress as America’s permanent tribute to Churchill. So, while former soldiers, private citizens, and dignitaries from Europe and and the U.S. will visit the Normandy beaches and battlefields to mark the anniversary this summer, those who can’t make it to France can see the invasion through the eyes of the combat artists, smack in the middle of the Midwest. The exhibit runs until July 20.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.