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Experiencing War (Companion to the Exhibition -- World War I: Echoes of the Great War) Stories from the Veterans History Project

Part 3: “A World Overturned”

By the time the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, World War I had wrought change across the globe, from the fall of empires, to individuals who were scarred both physically and mentally. While some joined the military seeking adventure and others simply felt they were fulfilling their duty as citizens, all who returned from war were forever changed by their experiences.

Many Americans who served, like Kentucky native Robley Rex, traveled for the first time, seeing the world beyond their hometowns and meeting people from around the country and beyond. Those stationed in Europe in the post-war period often found their former enemies to be friendly, even welcoming. Marine Corps Corporal Arthur Keller survived German shelling in the trenches, only to form an unlikely bond with a German family in the post-war period. 

But others suffered the impact of war more acutely. Roland Neel survived the dangerous early days of aviation as an aerial observer, but his family was forever changed by the war when his brother, Joseph, was killed in action at the Battle of St. Mihiel. Hubert Wesselman survived St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, but his family was keenly aware that he had carried his experiences home with him.

While some veterans were unable to leave difficult memories behind them, others held on to happier experiences. Upon his discharge, Ernest Muzzall felt an unexpected loss as he left the camaraderie of military life behind. And Edward Bayon’s life was transformed by his time overseas—he married a French woman and remained in France after his discharge. In many ways, small and large, the impact of war was felt by those who served, and remained with them as they re-entered civilian life in a newly peaceful world.

Hubert Joseph Wesselman
Pvt. Hubert J Wesselman - Official military photo probably taken prior to shipping out for France. Hubert Joseph Wesselman Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center.

Image of Edward J. Bayon

“...the whole town had turned out to meet us with flags and flowers.”

Edward J. Bayon's story

Image of Richard Thomas Crump

“The pictures are from France in WWI. They were taken by my father...”

Richard Thomas Crump's story

Image of Arthur Roland Keller

“We couldn't wear the American Marine uniform over there; it was too much like the color of the German uniform.”

Arthur Roland Keller's story

Image: Ernest Linwood Muzzall

“...it occurred to me that I had not been alone or separated from other fellows in the service for a long time.”

Ernest Linwood Muzzall's story

Image of Roland H. Neel, Sr.

“We rained shots on as many of the infantry as we could...we must have helped our boys a bit.”

Roland H. Neel, Sr.'s story

Image: Robley Henry Rex

“In my opinion, they were sorry to see us leave. We [were] a benefit to their society.”

Robley Henry Rex's story

Image: Reese Melvin Russell

“He handed the grenade to one of the men and said, 'Give them [the enemy] this. I wish I could.'”

Reese Melvin Russell's story

Image of Hubert Joseph Wesselman

“I don’t feel much effect yet but am afraid I will in the future.”

Hubert Joseph Wesselman's story

 
 
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  September 12, 2017
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