History professor pieces together WWI stories to commemorate anniversary of war's end

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Allied Forces victory over Germany in World War I was supposed to end all wars. In the 100 years since, many of the stories of the men who fought and the families who endured back home have been lost or forgotten. But a history professor at Southeastern University is trying to save what he can.

A collection of papers and photographs lay spread across two table tops in the Center for Southeastern Louisiana Studies inside the Simms Library at SLU.

"He was actually hit in the head." said Hyde, lifting a dented army helmet from the table. "They came back and repaired the helmet, and put it right back on him."

Hyde is part storyteller, part sleuth, piecing together soldier's stories through their letters, and other artifacts left to surviving family members after the war. What impresses him most is how their world changed in just a few short years.  Many, he says, walked straight off the farm into the rigid life of the military.

"One of the letters," said Hyde, "he talks about, 'we even have to line up to take a pee.' Their world changed that much. 'We cant go behind the old oak tree like we use to do at home.'"

Hyde said WWI is not remembered as a glorious victory as is World War II, largely because of the suffering endured by the troops as well as families back home. "World War One was the centerpiece in military horror. What was endured by people on the battlefield, behind the lines, and the survivors that came back home is something that demands acknowledgment."

Many troops arrived in Europe hungry. "We've got a couple stories where they are saying the very first shots for the war they fired was, they were starving, and so they raided some French of Belgian framer's farm."

Once they made it to the battlefield, they faced atrocities never before seen in war.

"It wasn't just men killing people outright. The machine guns. The tank. It was poison gas." Hyde said. "They came back with stories of hunger, despair, of bodies torn apart, of children suffering."

It was also a time families back at home were quick to try to forget. It was a time of disease and food shortages.

"So there were weekly publishing recipes -- Cottage cheese makes a great pot roast. Cottage cheese can be substituted for meatloaf." Hyde said.

To remember the heroes of this mostly forgotten generation, Hyde, along with the Center for Southeastern Louisiana Studies is collecting what is left to tell their stories in an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.

"We're always one step away from utter disaster. WWI represented stepping into the worst of these disasters." Hyde said.

He and the Center for Southeastern Louisiana Studies are seeking any WWI artifacts, memorabilia, photos, and letters that may have been handed down through the generations.

If you have something that might interest the center, Hyde asks that you contact him here.

Hyde hopes the exhibit, which opens September 26, the anniversary of the Battle of Argonne, will help us to learn the horrors of war from history and not personal experience.

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