The Heritage Center in Bismarck, North Dakota is paying homage to North Dakotans who served in World War I, commemorating the centennial of the United States joining the conflict in which they aided in bringing victory to the allied forces.
Genia Hesser, curator of exhibits for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, proudly proclaims that the physical exhibit is only one portion of the overall display. The showcase includes three components that consist of a 1,000-artifact display, propaganda posters lining the hallways and a large display with miscellaneous items that the Heritage Center possesses. The physical displays were erected in conjunction with a free film festival showing movies including “War Horse” and “Legends of the Fall.”
Other related efforts include those led by individuals of the Centennial Commission, in which a team of students from the University of Mary are involved on a personal level by locating and publishing letters that were written by those deployed during the war. These students are working to bring awareness to the personal efforts of the brave soldiers who put their lives in danger by serving our country and our state alike.
Efforts from the Heritage Center were sparked by the national U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, which included a national memorial service in Washington, D.C.
The exhibit provides context for what North Dakota was like prior to and during the war.
Although all of the U.S. was undoubtedly affected by World War I, North Dakota’s participation was one that was at first full of skepticism. According to Hesser, at the time of the war North Dakota had a population that consisted primarily of German descent, some of which still held loyalty to the German forces. At this point, the state had a strong socialist movement and distrusted outside interests such as corporations. Most believed that the war would be an opportunity for big businesses to grow richer.
“The disapproval was so strong that even the national representatives were against our involvement,” Hesser said, referencing senators such as Asle Gronna that voted against the resolution to join the war efforts in 1917.
Once war was officially declared, any resistance was counteracted by strong determination to serve and fight for the country. It is estimated that more than 30,000 North Dakotan citizens fought in the war, including hundreds of American Indians who were not yet recognized as U.S. citizens. Some even joined efforts earlier by relocating to Canada and joining the French Legion before North Dakota became officially involved.
Although Nov. 8, 2018 will mark the centennial of when the war ended and victory was declared, it is unquestionable that the effects of this war will last forever.
“World War I remains important to remember because even though the United States was involved for a short time there are global consequences that we are still feeling today,” Hesser indicated. We are reminded that history repeats itself, and the Great War continues to influence how we stand globally with other countries, both in a positive and negative light.
“The more you learn, the more you realize how much it impacts us today; so never stop learning,” she concluded.
Further information regarding specific attractions at the Heritage Center can be found at http://history.nd.gov/wwi/ and the World War I exhibit is open to the public now through Veterans’ Day of 2018.