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Nearly 4,000 Iowa faces anchor World War I exhibit

Traveling exhibit opens Saturday in Des Moines

Photographs of Iowans who died in World War I are included in the World War I Honor Roll traveling exhibit that opens Saturday at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines. (State Historical Society of Iowa)
Photographs of Iowans who died in World War I are included in the World War I Honor Roll traveling exhibit that opens Saturday at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines. (State Historical Society of Iowa)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Nearly 4,000 faces anchor a new traveling exhibit honoring the Iowans who lost their lives a century ago during World War I.

The World War I Honor Roll will open to the public at 9 a.m. Saturday at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines. Admission is free.

Memorial Day Weekend is an appropriate time to honor Iowans “who paid the ultimate price in service to our country,” said Susan Kloewer, administrator of the State Historical Society of Iowa

The Honor Roll, which can be searched by name, hometown and county, will help visitors connect names with faces of Iowans who were part of the U.S. participation in the war from April 1917 to November 1918.

To see the faces — all but a couple of hundred of the 4,088 men and women who served and died — “makes you think of all of those sacrifices and all of the families that lost somebody,” said Michael Morain, communications manager for the State Historical Society, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

“It’s really powerful. It’s a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy today, even in a very imperfect world, come at a cost and lots of people sacrificed a lot so we can enjoy the freedoms we too often take for granted,” Morain said.

Most of the photos were collected by the Iowa Department of History and Archives. In 1920, the forerunner of the State Historical Society asked Iowa families to send in the names and pictures of those who died in the war.

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A second call for names and photos in 2017 was a useful exercise in that it forced the Historical Society to shore up its records, Morain said.

In some cases, there were differences in the spellings of names, and the definition of who was an Iowan “was a little gray.”

The 4,088 Iowans who died includes some non-Iowans who served with Iowa divisions. It also includes 33 Iowans who served with the Canadian army and five with the British.

“We made the records as good as we could make them,” Morain said.

Some of the names in the exhibit will be more familiar than others, Morain said.

Merle Hay of Glidden, the first Iowan and one of the first Americans to die in the war, has a mall and major road named after him in Des Moines.

Names such as Marion Crandall of Cedar Rapids, a YMCA canteen worker who was a first American woman to die in active service during World War I, are less familiar.

“There will be names you will recognize. You know the family or recognize the names of monuments or prominent places in the area that were named for soldiers who died around that time,” Morain said.

“They are things that become part of our language, and we forget how those names got on our signs.”

Many Iowa towns were still “newish” in the early 20th century and borrowed heavily from the ranks of those who served as streets, parks and other local developments were named, Morain said.

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The new Honor Roll coincides with the State Historical Society’s ongoing exhibit, Iowa and the Great War, which explores how hundreds of thousands of Iowans stepped up to support the cause, both in the trenches and at home.

The ongoing exhibit explains how the country’s first African-American military officers trained at Fort Des Moines, how wartime propaganda shifted opinions about Prohibition and women’s suffrage, and even how the military gave some Iowans their first experience as pilots.

The exhibit, as well as the traveling Honor Roll, are important links to the war a century after it was fought.

“I think there is always a danger of forgetting chapters of history and, unfortunately, every generation has its own war,” Morain said.

World War I often gets tucked into history books between the Civil War and World War II, which had even higher death tolls, he said.

IF YOU GO: 

  • What: World War I Honor Roll Display
  • Where: State Historical Museum of Iowa, 600 E. Locust St., Des Moines, IA 50319
  • When: Opening: Saturday, May 26, 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Will remain on display for three to five months before traveling to other locations across Iowa. 
  • Admission: Free and open to the public
  • Detailshttps://iowaculture.gov/calendar/world-war-i-honor-roll-display

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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