Does anyone else here ever come to the grim realization whenever they’re in a war museum looking at real uniforms and equipment that the display they’re looking at is something that was actually worn or used by a person – often a person who died wearing or using those items? Well, I came around to that really rather stark reality while visiting the Museum of Valor exhibit today – the first war exhibition I’ve been to since High School, probably for this reason. It’s really strange, to me, to be looking at a dead soldier’s uniform in an exhibit; a strangeness which was compounded by the accompanying stories about each item’s former owner. Several of these were interesting, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just talk about a couple little blurbs.
The first one which struck me was something sort of positive – Martha Perkins’ post-war escapade seemed a little fishy to me. For a nurse to just go off with another woman after the war, touring Europe seems like something totally unheard of for the time. It made me think that perhaps she (and her ‘friend’) were maybe lesbians who met in the close quarters of the first world war. Maybe it’s the bias speaking here, but that was my immediate thought after reading the plaque. (All of the nurses uniforms also gave me a better idea of what to imagine characters from Not So Quiet… as looking like.)
There was also a really interesting piece up about African American soldiers in WWI which was very much in line with my understanding of their experience at the time from other classes. It talked about how they were reassigned to aid French units and in doing so were subject to less prejudice and were able to get more adequate supplies. (There was also a funny paragraph talking about how American soldiers who joined French units not being used to wine rations and drinking them all at once, leading to the wine rations being decreased.) From my understanding, these experiences fighting alongside the white, French soldiers as equals was one of the catalyzing forces behind a lot of the civil rights movements which followed in the mid 1900’s.
In any case, I thought it was all very interesting.