“It is a great thing to shell your best out and fight for a principle, but it gets almighty tiresome sometimes.” -Letter from Harry S. Truman to Bess Wallace (1918)
There is not a uniform narrative of soldier life during World War I. Using records from the National Archives at Philadelphia, this exhibit highlights six men whose lives were forever changed by the Great War. Aspects of their experiences may ring true for other soldiers who fought in the war, but they do not necessarily represent the majority. Records at the National Archives provide a lens through which we can better understand U.S. involvement in WWI.
“Food Question in a nutshell is this: that the United States, with a population of one hundred and ten million, was until lately an importer of foodstuffs, but must now, owing to the exigencies of war, must feed not only itself but fifty million people of its allies as well. The non-fulfillment of this task means nothing short of defeat” -Federal Food Administrator for Maryland
Though Americans received glimpses of the war in Europe through periodicals, it was impossible to fully prepare soldiers for the gruesome reality of war. When the American soldiers joined in the last few months of the war, the European countryside had already been ravaged and the soldiers on either side hardened by the cruel reality of new warfare.
On top of the new, powerful machinery, another weapon threatened human life: poisonous gases. These new chemical weapons were also carcinogenic, causing cancer in soldiers exposed to them later on in life. Caring for disabled veterans required new types of medical services, including mental healthcare.
Exhibit compiled and curated by Amellia Fiske (Summer Diversity Intern, 2016) in collaboration with Grace DiAgostino (Archives Technician) at the National Archives at Philadelphia.
Want to learn more about the records used in this exhibit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org