World War I-era music spills from the special exhibit room at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum. The centerpiece of the room is a display featuring an old Victor-Victrola case that once belonged to Sgt. Emory Fridolf Pike, Company M, 325th Infantry Regiment. This case once held a Victor-Victrola that played this same music long ago to Soldiers in the trenches.
“Before They Were Airborne, the 82nd Division in World War I” exhibit is a product of the collaborative efforts of the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum and ASOM. It features several personal items from notable early members of the 82nd Div., which help tell the stories of individuals who laid the foundations of the 82nd Airborne legacy.
Jimmie Hollis, curator 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum, hopes that visitors will be able to connect with the personal stories associated with the items on display.
“Visitors will be able to understand a little bit of the (Soldier’s) experiences (and) the individual stories, (because) people can relate to those things,” explained Hollis.
Capt. Jewett Williams, an educated reverend from Athens, Georgia, was the first Soldier from the 82nd Div. to be killed in action. He was shot and killed by a German sharpshooter on June 9, 1918 in France. On display is a map case that was in his possession at the time of his death, as well as one of his coats.
The exhibit also boasts items belonging to one of the most famous of 82nd Div. heroes, Col. Alvin C. York, Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment, 164th Brigade, 82nd Division. York received the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor for actions during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918.
Immortalized on the silver screen by Gary Cooper, York assumed command of seven men after heavy casualties. They then attacked and incapacitated a German machinegun nest. York and three men went on to capture four German officers and 128 men. Gen. John J. Pershing touted York as “the greatest civilian Soldier of the war.”
A gas mask contributed by a private donor tells another personal story. This artifact belonged to Polish immigrant Pfc. Zigmund Staskiel, Battery C, 109th Field Artillery, 28th Division. Staskiel joined the 28th Division during the Pancho Villa Expedition and accompanied them into the Meuse-Argonne Offensive while attached to the 82nd Div. During fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Staskiel suffered exposure to mustard gas and died from gas-related complications in 1920.
James Bartlinksi, director, ASOM, hopes that people will take away “an appreciation for what these Soldiers did, (as) they really did think they were going off to make the world safe for democracy.”
This year marks the 82nd Abn. Div.’s centennial. Originally housed at Camp Gordon, Georgia, the 82nd Div. was created in August 1917.
One hundred years ago, fighting alongside the Allied Powers in France, the 82nd Div. distinguished themselves in two decisive battles — the Saint-Mihiel Offensive, the first major battle undertaken solely by the American military, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
During the Saint-Mihiel Offensive, the 82nd Div. helped hold the right flank. Lt. Col. Emory J. Pike, division machinegun officer, 82nd Div., who later died of wounds sustained during the Saint-Mihiel Offensive, also received the Congressional Medal of Honor for setting an example of courage and duty and establishing the highest standard of morale and confidence to all in his charge.
In just over a year of combat, the 82nd Div. suffered 7,555 casualties, 6,488 of which were sustained during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
As demonstrated in the ASOM special exhibit, the history of the 82nd Div. in WWI is rich despite being relatively unknown and underrepresented. The 82nd Div. played a vital role in the success of WWI. The ASOM exhibit will be open until the end of August.