The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, MO, is hosting a brand-new exhibit starting this weekend, Till We Meet Again: The Greatest Generation in War and Peace. Seventy years after the end of World War II, this exhibition takes visitors back to the tumultuous year of 1945 to share the epic struggle of world leaders and everyday men and women who found the strength and courage to accomplish extraordinary deeds. News reels from the time, fireside chats, posters, and personal letters and diary entries will completely immerse you in the experience of wartime hardship and deprivation. Iconic artifacts and documents highlight the year’s major events, including the death of FDR, Truman’s unexpected rise to the presidency, the Allied Victory in Europe, and the ultimate surrender of Japan.
Many of the artifacts in the exhibit have rarely (if ever) been on display before. Two historic documents–surrender papers signed by Germany in May 1945 and by Japan three months later–are being borrowed for limited display from the National Archives in Washington, DC.
With its vast collection spread over 3,000 square feet, Till We Meet Again goes farther than just facts and figures to tell the real human story behind battlefield statistics. Objects that will stay with you long after you’ve toured the exhibit include a photo of the wild-eyed POWs participating in the horrific Bataan Death March in the Philippines, and a poster honoring the Fighting Sullivans–five young Irish-American brothers who grew up in America’s heartland and all perished in action aboard the USS Juneau in the Pacific. One artifact–a prayer book and spoon an American soldier had in his pocket when shot by a German sniper while in a foxhole–might especially give you pause. “The bullet went through and he was still wounded, but those two pieces probably kept him from being killed,” curator Clay Bauske says.
Other documents and artifacts on display include a map of Japan and the Pacific region that Presidents Roosevelt and Truman used in the White House map room, the first American flags to fly above Berlin after the defeat of Germany and above Tripoli after the capture of North Africa in 1943, a portrait of President Truman by an Austrian prisoner of war, correspondence between Truman and Winston Churchill, personal letters of Herman Goering, and a signed copy of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
The urn containing Allied soil (from France, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and America) from the Mardasson Memorial’s inaugural ceremony in Belgium is also presented in this exhibit. The Mardasson Memorial was constructed to honor the sacrifices of the more than 75,000 U.S. soldiers who were killed or wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, the deadliest battle in U.S. Army history. The urn is resting on a swastika, as a symbol of the defeat of the Nazis, and a simple inscription on the cover says, “Belgium Will Remember.”
There are many awe-inspiring artifacts on display here, but what is especially unique about this exhibit is its focus on Harry Truman as not just a public figure, but a flesh-and-blood, all-too-human man (there’s even a letter from Truman to a family member inquiring about a family dog)–a man who found the prospect of being named President an unwelcome and terrifying burden, but who rose to the task with aplomb.
The Fine Print
Till We Meet Again: The Greatest Generation in War and Peace runs from April 4, 2015 to January 3, 2016, and is included with regular museum admission. Admission charges for all veterans and active military members will be waived from VE Day (May 8) through VJ Day (August 15).