The soldiers of World War II brought with them the exuberance of youth and the knowledge of past generations to a European continent that was completely tainted by war. These soldiers participated in a tourist experience that would be different than any other. It was an experience that involved all the terrible aspects of war while still providing some small space for wonder. It was a trip that many never wanted to take and one that would live with them forever.
Showing now through Sept. 1, the one-of-a-kind exhibit, Experiencing Europe – Tourism and the American Soldier During WWII explores a little-known aspect of the experience of American military personnel in World War II Europe. In addition to the long marches and hard-fought battles necessary to liberate multiple nations from the scourge of Nazi domination, these same Americans, while on the march or during their limited recreational time, became de facto tourists on a continent that many had never seen before. The soldiers witnessed breathtaking natural beauty; encountered sites of historic and religious significance; visited museums; and experienced a variety of new and different cultures-all within the context of the devastation of war. They often wrote about their experiences and collected souvenirs from the places they visited. Some also later returned to the places where they had served during the war to relive their experiences and to participate in anniversary commemorations and victory celebrations. The exhibit tells the story of these men and women through a combination of historic images, artifacts, memorabilia, souvenirs, postcards and letters and personal recollections.
“This exhibit has really given us the chance to bring out many collection pieces that are brand new or have never been on view before," said Curator Molly Randolph. "I tried to explore the soldier’s stories through objects – and these objects serve as a testament to the experiences of so many."
The exhibit also explores Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge’s time abroad. He was on the front lines for 132 consecutive days and experienced the extreme hardship that so many of these soldiers did. While guests are going through the exhibit they can imagine themselves in the deserts of Africa camping with Coolidge before the invasion of Italy, or in a foxhole with him eating K-Rations. It is easy to put yourself in the day-to-day mindset of the American GI as you see the objects the kept and read about their everyday lives, said officials. .
Ms. Randolph on Saturday and Sunday will lead a special Curator’s Tour of the all-new exhibit Exploring Europe: The American Soldier During World War II. Ms. Randolph will give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how the exhibit was put together and why certain objects were chosen. This is an exciting moment to get a first glimpse of the newest addition to the Heritage Center’s award-winning programs. The tours are offered free with the purchase of an admission ticket Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
During the Hometown Tourist Discount promotion, April 29 – May 16, not only will area residents receive a $2 per admission discount, but World War II veterans will be admitted at no charge. https://www.mohhc.org/experiencing-europe/
For more information education programs, special exhibits, events, and annual memberships, please visit www.MOHHC.org or call 877-2525.