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New exhibit marks 100th anniversary of U.S. entering World War I

On April 6, 1917, the United States of America committed to participation in World War I by declaring war on Germany. The Buffalo History Museum is marking the centennial by opening a new exhibit that explores what was supposed to be "the war to end all wars." That exhibit includes tributes to Western New Yorkers who served and sacrificed for the war effort.

The exhibit known as "For Home and Country" features numerous mementos from a war that had begun in 1914. The U.S. committed to the war in 1917 but American soldiers didn't see combat until the following year. 

In the meantime, Americans enlisted to prepare for service overseas. Others volunteered as "canteens" who traveled overseas to provide support for the troops from behind the lines. On the homefront, there were several bond sales to raise funds to pay for the war effort.

The newly-opened exhibit in the Buffalo History Museum remembers the buildup with a series of posters in its main hall, including the iconic Uncle Sam "I Want You" Army recruitment advertisement. Hanging on a wall as part of the exhibit space on the ground level is a large banner which reads, "Buffalo Will See It Through."

Anthony Greco, Director of Exhibits and Interpretive Planning for the museum, says Americans continued raising money after the war was over.

"There were five Liberty Loan campaigns nationally," he said. "In Buffalo we raised about $250 million over those five loans, beating the expected quota by about 13 percent."

The museum's exhibit also includes displays of authentic uniforms and equipment that American fighters used in the field. A mock-up of a machine gun position is featured.

"At this point in the war, tactics had changed from what we think of as the trench warfare, that still existed, but the Americans went in and it was much more open battle. Creeping barrages is what they called them," said Greco. "An outpost like this would have been set up in the Argonne Forest, because we were pushing forward, trying to get through ultimately to the railway structures at Sedan in France."

More than 116,000 U.S. soldiers died in a bloody war that claimed the lives of more than 17 million people worldwide. Among the displays in the new exhibit is a large wall with the names of every individual from Erie County who died in the conflict.

World War One changed the way wars were fought. Most notoriously, mustard gas became a prominent weapon in the battlefield.

There were also unintended consequences of the war. The aftermath in Germany created conditions and sentiment that ultimately led to Adolf Hitler's rise to power and a second world war.

But there were also some positive consequences. 

Women went to work in place of male loved ones during World War One. This, Greco explained, helped accelerate and strengthen the push for women's suffrage. Just two years after the Armistice, women were granted the right to vote in the U.S.

"Women's suffrage started decades earlier in the mid 19th Century, but the role women played convinced (President) Woodrow Wilson to take the issue," he said. "He originally thought it should be a state-by-state issue and he made it a national one and pushed for it."

The exhibit will run through April 2019.

In the meantime, WNED-TV will broadcast a three-part series beginning Monday, April 10 that explores World War One. "PBS American Experience - The Great War" will be broadcast for three consecutive nights, beginning at 9 p.m.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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