A 42-centimeter artillery shell from the German “Big Bertha” Howitzer, a World War I weapon, is now on display next to Soldiers’ uniforms, propaganda posters and gas masks at the Fort Meade Museum.
The museum opened a special exhibit April 5 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of World War I and Camp Meade.
The opening, marked by a ribbon cutting, is the beginning of a number of events to pay homage to the war that changed the world and significantly impacted the years that followed.
Before the ribbon cutting, Garrison Family Life Chaplain (Maj.) James Covey led a prayer.
Robert Johnson, director of the Fort Meade Museum, gave a brief overview of Camp Meade and World War I.
“On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress asking for a declaration of war,” he said. “The Senate approved that [request] two days later and two days after that, the House of Representatives [approved it]. Meaning tomorrow [April 6], at 6 a.m., 2017, will be the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I.”
Remembering Camp Meade
Jim Speraw, a museum specialist at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, helped develop the exhibit.
“This is where I got my first job in October of 1980, so I kind of know a little something about Meade,” he said. “I was called in to assist on the exhibit. … We basically tried to cover the history of Meade from its inception up through 1920-21.”
Speraw noted the speed in which Camp Meade was built.
“The really important thing is the fact that this place was able to move so many people and so many horses through as quickly and efficiently as they did,” he said. “When the war was over, they immediately went to demobilizing. That included one division that was fully trained, waiting to leave and was demobilized here.
“So please come in and enjoy what we have.”
Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard thanked Speraw for his work and reflected on the history of the installation.
“I think there are folks in here that have histories with Fort Meade that go back several generations — and that’s not lost on me,” Rickard said. “I’m grateful to be just one part of a very long, continuous team that has been part of Fort Meade.”
Rickard, whose great-grandfather trained at Camp Meade, recognized everyone’s tie to the installation.
“Probably every one of us has a story of some kind that relates back to Camp Meade — now Fort Meade — and we’re grateful to be here,” he said.
After Rickard spoke, both he and Johnson cut the ribbon.
The ceremony was followed by a reception featuring a red, white and blue cake and other refreshments.
History Returns Home
Nancy Schaff, president of The Descendants & Friends of the 314th Infantry, 79th Division attended the event.
In 2012, the organization donated a log cabin, built at Camp Meade 100 years ago, back to the installation.
“The cabin tells those who are currently serving that we won’t forget them,” said Schaff, who’s grandfather served in World War I. “You will not be forgotten.”
Originally housed at Valley Forge National Historic Park, the cabin came with around 500 World War I artifacts, many of which are on display in the museum exhibit.
Schaff hopes to complete the project by the end of this year.
“We’ll just be taking [the cabin] back home where it belongs,” she said.
David Craig, executive director of the World War I Centennial Commission, is responsible for helping the Maryland government and other installations celebrate and honor World War I.
“This was the war that changed the world,” he said. “Things that have happened over the last 100 years are because of World War I.”
Barbara Taylor, Fort Meade Museum exhibit specialist, worked with Speraw to put together the exhibit.
“I cried a lot [hearing] the conditions that the men [had to endure],” she said. “The horrors of war don’t change, but neither does the American spirit.”
For Taylor, the importance of the exhibit is twofold.
“[Service members] today want to know where they exist in the timeline of history,” she said. “If you see people from the past that made a mark on history and are commemorated, you become confident that you are part of a [bigger] system.
“If you have a great problem, you can surmount it. It can improve confidence that you will prevail.”
The second reason?
“We have really cool stuff that people should come see,” she said with a laugh.