PENDLETON — One hundred years ago, about 135,000 Hoosiers flew to Europe to fight in a global struggle, which they gravely nicknamed “The War to End All Wars.” More than 3,300 of those Indiana soldiers never came home.
A century later, the City of Indianapolis has more war memorials than any other city in the country, excluding Washington, D.C. Honoring veterans who paid the price of freedom is a deeply-rooted tradition for Hoosiers, a tradition that the Indiana War Memorials Commission intends to carry on as Veterans Day approaches.
The Pendleton Community Public Library is featuring a traveling exhibit titled “The Great War, from Ration Lines to the Front Lines,” courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, through Nov. 19.
Retired Brig. Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin, executive director of the Indiana War Memorials Commission and former assistant adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, will give a special presentation Nov. 5 to discuss the service of Hoosiers during the Great War.
Circulation librarian Ashley Stout said when she realized 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, she came up with the idea of featuring an exhibit on the Great War.
“I think any education is good education, but I think this is an interesting tidbit of history to tie in, given that it’s the 100-year anniversary,” Stout said. “These are wonderful displays, and we enjoy having them here.”
Goodwin, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after 37 years of service, said World War I was a pivotal moment in world history that shaped politics and culture in the United States.
“This was a really amazing time in the history of our country,” Goodwin said. “We went into this war on horses, and we went out of this war on airplanes.”
The story of American service members serving in the war can be characterized by the horrifying conditions in which they fought, he said.
“[The Indiana War Memorial Commission] has a fairly good collection of letters in the state archives that were sent from the doughboys back home,” Goodwin said. “The morale was just pitiful. Some of them read, ‘I know I’m going to die, I just don’t know if today’s the day I’m going to die.’ They just had no thoughts about surviving. That’s how bad it was.”
Goodwin has a family connection to World War I; his stepgrandfather served in France in 1917. When Goodwin was younger, he saw scars on his stepgrandfather’s arms caused by exposure to chlorine gas in the trenches.
Through a family history of military service and decades of personal experience in the armed forces, Goodwin has gained an intimate understanding of the sacrifice made by veterans, young and old.
Goodwin — who provided many details about Indiana’s commitment to veterans, including Indianapolis’ many memorials — said he wants to focus on the historic accomplishments made by everyday Hoosiers who were veterans of the Great War to keep their memory alive.
“I think that Indiana is known for Hoosier hospitality,” Goodwin said. “I think that equally as important is Hoosier service… I think it’s also important for people to know that if it weren’t for people who wore the uniform, our world would be a whole lot different.”
“We tell stories about Hoosiers,” he added. “Ordinary Hoosiers who have done extraordinary things.”
Public school systems rarely go into detail on the sacrifices made by Indiana World War I veterans, Goodwin said.
He said he hopes the efforts of groups like the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana War Memorial Commission can help further the public’s education regarding the Great War, and the men and women who gave their lives while serving.
“There are literally hundreds of thousands of Americans who are buried in France, Belgium and different places in battlefield graves,” Goodwin said. “So many of them don’t have a tomb that we can go see or talk about. With this being the 100th anniversary, this is a prime time for folks like us who are in the education business to teach what was going on.”
The Great War: From Ration Lines to the Front Lines
Exhibit on display at the Pendleton Community Public Library, 595 E. Water St., Pendleton
9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays
9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Fridays
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday
1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday
Brig. Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin presentation
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, at the library