GoldstarWork is underway on a new exhibit in the Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge near Johnston that shows a realistic portrayal of trench warfare during World War One.

The exhibit will be ready just in time for the 99th anniversary of America’s involvement in the war. Iowa City designer, Will Thompson, is recreating a shelled French village, and says the 250-thousand dollars budget is unusual.

“Museums don’t usually have the budgets to afford them to do really high tech and expensive kinds of displays that involve light and sound and it’s going to be a completely unique experience,” Thompson says.

He says museums in the last few years have had to compete with theaters, theme parks and other forms of entertainment. The new exhibit will show visitor the horrors of trench warfare, complete with eight-tracks of sound and sub woofers that will shake the ground in a simulated night scene.

“It’s dark in here and its lit by lanterns and you hear the footsteps of men moving up and down the trench, even the dirt from an explosion falling into the trench,”Thompson says. “Where you’re standing will literally vibrate with the concussion of an artillery shell impacting.” Just like the infantrymen who fought here, visitors can look through periscopes and see actual film of World War One combat.

Gold Star Museum curator Mike Vogt says the majority of the casualties occurred on the front line trenches and artillery was the big killer. More than 3,500 Iowans died in World War One.

“When the armies of Europe went to war in August of 1914, industry and scientific discovery from the prior three decades went along with them yielding murderous weapons like the machine gun, high explosive artillery, rapid fire artillery, magazine rifles and the most dreadful weapon of all was poison gas,” Vogt says.

The phrase “life in the trenches” originated during World War One, as did “trench foot,” the dreaded fungal disease caused by nonstop exposure to mud and water. Designer Will Thompson had forefathers who were in the trenches. “Doing a museum exhibit is not entirely entertainment, you know it’s here to teach people about the way circumstances really were,” Thompson explains, “if I could get smells in here I would; blood and sweat, and mud and gun powder, and tear gas and mustard gas and all that, but that might make it a little intolerable for visitors.”

Camp Dodge itself was a key regional training ground for World War One, as thousands of troops were sent there before heading off to Europe. The exhibit will also include 1918 Liberty truck that ended up at Camp Dodge and is believed to be one of only two that are still in operating condition. The exhibition commemorating America’s role in the “great war” is set to open in early April.


Thanks to Rich Frederickson, Iowa Public Radio