Hali’s grandfather served in the US Army during World War I, The Great War. Hali has talked about her Farfar ( Father’s father) and his service but I didn’t know he was so well decorated. Today we are honored to visit Cantigny (Can-tee-nee). Home of the US Army’s First Division Museum, The Big Red One.
Cantigny is just up the road in Wheaton, Illinois and we come here often. Not only is this museum an excellent way to learn about World War I but it offers great insight into the duties of the First Division. The men on the front lines. The first boots on the ground.
Hali’s grandfather may have seen action at the Battle of Cantigny, France with a Colonel McCormick. Colonel McCormick inherited this land and named it Cantigny in honor of the battle fought there and in 1955 set up a trust to designate it into a park for use of the general public.
The grounds and gardens are immaculately kept. School buses line the parking lot with students on field trips. Tanks guard the museum buildings. But we are here today to find out a little bit more about some of the First Division items Hali’s family has donated over the years to the museum.
Here are the medals and stripes that decorated George Anselm’s uniform: a silver star, purple heart, campaign medals, reunion honors, and his stripes. These were donated just a couple months ago so they are not currently on display but after the museum opens up after a nine month remodel the Anselm collection will be part of the new wing. In addition, his uniform, some letters, and other reunion type ephemera will be part of this public display.
We met with museum docent Shane who despite being very young had considerable knowledge of World War I and the First Division in particular. We brought in these helmets to learn more about them. The large heavy helmet once belonged to a German soldier. Oftentimes a US soldier would bring these back as “souvenirs.” These have been sitting on a shelf in Catherine’s basement.
The other smaller helmet with a spike was the first issued helmets of the German army. They were replaced in 1916 with the more battle ready heavy helmet. This spiked helmet became more ceremonial and would have been more adorned in brass later on.
As decorated as George Anselm was, he didn’t talk much of the war. Instead we have learned about most of his service, like many other servicemen, from his letters home. Hali has photocopied these letters and donated them to the museum a few years ago and will hang onto the originals herself. For Hali, these letters are more valuable than the tangible gifts, like the medals and helmets, the family has donated to the First Division Museum at Cantigny. Reminds my of something Hali’s mother would say, ” Honor the “thing” , keep the love.”
Hali will preserve the legacy of her Farfar, George Anselm, and his service with the US Army in The Great War and will live on with the Anselm family through these letters. The First Division war heirlooms will stay here at Cantigny for generations of school children to learn from the legacy of ALL the war heroes of the First Division, The Big Red One.