WWI museum exhibition examines links to Vietnam War

The boonie hat was introduced to the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War when U.S. Army Green Berets began wearing them in the field, along with Australian and Army of the Republic of Vietnam units. National WWI Museum and Memorial image

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – More than 40 years after its conclusion, the Vietnam War remains one of the most controversial events of the 20th century. How did the conflict begin? Why did it begin? What are the connections between the war and its confounding cousin, World War I?

The National WWI Museum and Memorial will host the special exhibition “The Vietnam War: 1945-1975” beginning on Friday, Nov. 8, through Sunday, May 31, 2020. From perspectives covering both the home front and the war front, the exhibition explores themes of patriotism, duty and citizenship through a remarkable collection of objects, documents, photographs and more.

In conjunction with Veterans Day Weekend (Friday-Monday, Nov. 8-11), admission to the Museum and Memorial is free for veterans and active duty military personnel, while general admission is half-price for the public. Museum and Memorial members can view the exhibition for free during an exclusive preview day on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We are honored to serve as the only host institution in the Midwest and the final location for this incredibly important and poignant exhibition,” said Matthew Naylor, National WWI Museum and Memorial president and CEO. “Some might wonder why the National WWI Museum and Memorial would host an exhibition about the Vietnam War. As we seek to achieve our mission of informing the public about the Great War’s enduring impact, events that took place in Vietnam are quite connected to and were most certainly influenced by World War I.”

U.S. soldiers on a search and destroy patrol 1966. National WWI Museum and Memorial image

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey spanning the duration of U.S. involvement in Indochina, using compelling storytelling, powerful photography and artifacts that tell the deeply personal stories of the men and women who were affected by the war.

The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 explores themes through fascinating objects, including a troopship berthing unit, vibrant anti-war posters, artwork by Vietnam vets, a Viet Cong bicycle, the Pentagon Papers and historical film footage. More than 300 artifacts, photographs, artworks, documents, films and interactive digital media help to convey the story.

An introductory gallery precedes the exhibition, which features documents and historical research from the collection of the Museum and Memorial, helping to illustrate connections between the Great War and the Vietnam War. At the Paris peace talks in 1919, a young man named Nguyễn Sinh Cung requested audiences with world leaders in an attempt to secure independence from France for what eventually became Vietnam. Denied these repeated attempts, he later forged alliances with Communist-leaning leaders and renamed himself Ho Chi Minh.

A bespectacled artillery captain from Missouri, Harry S. Truman said his later decisions were based on his World War I experiences, including providing economic and military aid to France in support of its efforts in Indochina. Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a young tank captain named Dwight Eisenhower, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, Colonel George C. Marshall and many others deeply involved in World War I had connections to the war in Southeast Asia a few decades later.

71st Evacuation Hospital patch and 57th Medical Detachment patch. National WWI Museum and Memorial image

“The intersections of World War I and the Vietnam War are numerous and extensive,” said National WWI Museum and Memorial Senior Curator Doran Cart. “World War I affected virtually every aspect of human life in some manner for the remainder of the 20th century and beyond. The circumstances surrounding the Vietnam War are certainly no different in that regard.”

Additionally, the Museum and Memorial will host the AVTT Traveling Vietnam Wall, an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on the Southeast Lawn of the complex from May 14-25, 2020. Visitation of the wall is open to the public.

Outside of special pricing during Veterans Day Weekend and Memorial Day Weekend, admission to The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military and $6 for youth. When combined with a general admission ticket, admission to the exhibition is only an additional $3. Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance at theworldwar.org to avoid lines.

This exhibition has been organized by the New-York Historical Society with special collaboration of the National WWI Museum and Memorial.

To learn more, visit theworldwar.org.