First Division Museum: Twenty Years Old and still cutting edge!

War: bombs, guns, shots, blood, helicopters, planes, and death all come to mind. Cantigny’s First Division Museum presents the courageous, the gritty, and the abrasive events, people, and machines of the First Division Corps history all in one museum. 

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Emotional and terrifyingly real experiences await the visitor in this museum; nightmares have nothing on these true depictions of military history from World War I to Desert Storm. Entering the museum is the corps prior history to its founding in World War I during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Spanish American War. Walking into the main exhibition hall, a  large abandoned tank greets the visitor, to the left of the entrance is the direct result of trench warfare in Europe: run-down, heavily bombed, and skeletal structures that were once homes and stores of civilians

Continuing through the World War I area, the visitor ventures into the trench with the barracks, the mud, and the rats. Stop to read about the use of gas and gas masks. Continuing on, the next major historical period is World War II. Adventure into the amphibious vehicle for the D-Day Invasion. A screen will show highlights of the battle and slowly raise for the visitor to exit directly on to the Normandy beaches. Sunless, gray, and a war torn beach meet the visitors.  The quiet and stillness after the battle, rings in the ears making for an uneasy passage to the scene of the Battle of Bulge. World War II ends with a journalist corresponding with the Chicago Tribune. Make sure to listen in on the horrific details of war. It certainly is not the jovial famous V-J day kiss in that Times Square photo.

The last two main exhibit hall scenes are the Vietnam War with a lush jungle and a rather long film of the corps roles in the conflict and a short explanation panel labels of Desert Storm. The Vietnam area is focused on the acts of heroism displayed rather than the America victorious story. The film hits a high emotional climax towards the end when the troops were readying the South Vietnamese for independence and how Americans showed their acceptance or rejection of the veterans once they returned to home soil. The conflict overseas is conflict that emotional split America. Watching this film will reveal the severity of the situation for those who lived it and for those who did not. While the Vietnam War reaches your visual, emotional, and auditory senses, the area of Desert Storm is just a blip on the historical time line represented in the museums main exhibition hall. This area could use some additional historical context.

By the end of your visit, you are over-visually and auditorily stimulated. The visitor leaves with a sense of foreboding and emotional distraught. Rather than focusing on your high emotional responses take the time to thoroughly discuss your thoughts and feelings with those who accompanied you, especially younger children.  Eek out the historical context, how war is devastating, but without the technology or human perseverance for freedom; life maybe particularly different in America today. War includes the guns, bombs, and blood, but it to shows heroism for your fellow brothers in the unit and America too.

This museum is truly audacious and stimulates every sense till the visitor walks away with a nervous twitch. But in turn, showing true history is never easy and this museum has achieved its full mission and effect.

Museum Information: 

Hours:

Garden/Grounds: Every day 9:00 A.M. to sunset

Museums: Jan: Closed
Feb: Fri-Sun, 10am-4pm
Mar-Apr: T-Sun, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
May-Oct: T-Sun, 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Nov-Dec: T-Sun, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

Admission Average: $5 per car, museums have free admission every day

Directions | Exhibitions 

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