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Wood County museum’s exhibit takes visitors back to painful past of 1917

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    Marsha Biller, left, and her sister-in-law Staci Biller, both of Tiffin, view a World War I exhibit.

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    Jacob McQuistion of Fremont, a sophomore at Bowling Green State University, looks at a display of a World War I trench at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum.

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    An American Red Cross display is part of the World War I exhibit at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum.

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    Jenkins

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    Medals on display in the World War I exhibit include a Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre.

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    Infirmary bedroom on display at the World War I exhibit at The Wood County Historical Center and Museum.

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    Uniforms on display at the World War I exhibit at The Wood County Historical Center and Museum.

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BOWLING GREEN — World War I was fought a century ago, but a stroll through the Wood County Historical Center & Museum will take visitors on a trip back to 1917.

Both floors of the museum are dedicated to the war, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States’ initial involvement. The exhibit, titled “Over There! Send Word, the Wood County Boys Are Coming,” covers all aspects of the war and showcases the contributions of many veterans from Wood County.

Many pieces of war memorabilia are on display, including guns, medals, uniforms, gas masks, and dog tags — all of which are property of the museum or loaned by descendants of Wood County World War I veterans.

“When you begin the exhibit, you learn about why World War I happened,” curator Holly Hartlerode said. “This is something that’s kind of glazed over in your high school history class.”

RELATED: Local soldiers’ sacrifices highlight horror of WWI

Visitors will see a mixture of information panels, audio, and video components, and will have the opportunity to fill out their own draft card.

The first floor is dedicated to the events in Europe. Visitors will learn about causes of the war and why President Woodrow Wilson eventually brought the United States into the conflict after initially staying neutral.

Trench warfare is synonymous with the First World War, and the museum teamed with the Bowling Green State University theater department to construct their own 8-foot-tall trench complete with barbed wire at the top.

“The idea is you’re living in this thing for months,” Ms. Hartlerode said. “You’re cold, wet, hungry. If someone died in it, you probably left them there.”

Upstairs, visitors will get a feel for what life was like in America during the war. Victory gardens and mail rooms are replicated, and there are displays of propaganda posters, postcards sent from overseas, photos, and discharge letters.

About 1,000 men from Wood County served, and 73 were killed.

Admission is $5 for adults and $1 for children.

A soldier’s story

After completing a tour of duty along the Mexican border during the conflict with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, 1st Sgt. Theodore S. Jenkins thought he was on his way home.

Then the United States entered World War I, and the Pemberville native was sent to France in June of 1918 with the 37th Division of the Ohio National Guard.

In July, Mr. Jenkins spent 44 days in the trenches near Strausberg, Germany.

His son, Theodore G. Jenkins, 89, said his father didn’t speak much about the war.

“When he was in his 80s, I got him to write down some of the things he went through,” his son said. “It gives me a better appreciation for what he went through. It gives me a better understanding of what happened in the war.”

The elder Mr. Jenkins was hit with mustard gas Sept. 28, 1918, and was slightly wounded by machine gun fire a day later.

The following month, Mr. Jenkins’ heroics earned him a silver star — the third-highest honor awarded to military personnel. Under heavy shell fire for four days at Escault River near Singum, Belgium, Mr. Jenkins took command of his company when all commanding officers were either killed or wounded.

He also received two purple hearts and the French Croix de Guerre, which are all on display at the museum.

“I heard about [the war], knew about it, it was part of school in history,” The younger Jenkins said. “But to have the personal connection is more rewarding than just reading about it in the history books. And I think it made my dad a better person.”

Mr. Jenkins served with two of his brothers, Dennis and Ervin, in Europe. He returned to the United States, and attended Ohio Northern University after the war. He died in 1989 at 95.

Maj. John K. “Jack” Raney was born in Morgan County, but later lived in Bowling Green. As World War I loomed, he enlisted for officer candidate school in 1916.

One week before his deployment, he learned of the United States Air Service — a forerunner to the Air Force.

“It was new and exciting,” said Pat Pogue, Major Raney’s daughter. “So he applied for that. He was assigned to an airfield in a little town in France called Châtillon-sur-Seine.”

Mr. Raney arrived shortly before the war ended and never saw combat. However, he trained in France as an aerial observer. While flying in the back seat of an open cockpit airplane, his duties included taking pictures and notifying troops on the ground if they were hitting their targets.

All U.S. military returned home after the war, except for the airmen. Mr. Raney grew to love the small French town and the family he stayed with.

“My dad got to know all the people in this little town and he kept in touch with them all his life,” Ms. Pogue said. “When he was 80, he went back to Châtillon and saw all the descendants of the people he knew while he was there.”

In 2008, Ms. Pogue, 85, traveled to France for the 90th anniversary of the war’s end. She placed a wreath on the monument in town, and met the daughter of her father’s girlfriend while he lived there.

“One of the most moving things was hearing statements from people like, ‘We love America. It’s the greatest country in history,’ “ Ms. Pogue said. “’You saved us twice and we’ll never forget it.’”

Mr. Raney died in 1996 at 106.

Contact Jay Skebba at: jskebba@theblade.com, 419-376-9414, or on Twitter @JaySkebbaBlade.

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