The glorious centennial of the World War has come to a close. And, to be honest, this is rather saddening to me— my life, for the past six or so years, has revolved around this centennial and all that is come from it. But it is important to note that this glorious day marks the end of the worst war the world has ever seen, and so we must be grateful. On this day, we reflect on the sacrifices made by so many people 100 years ago, and how our lives have been touched by their lasting legacy even unto this day. Even if you don’t know it, your life has been effected by this conflict, even an hundred years on.
Both me and Seth’s journey with the war started in May of 2013 with the release of The Great Gatsby (that film, as dumb as this sounds, truly changed my life for the better); we saw the scenes of the war, saw how it affected the people who took part in it, and we saw the whole decade of celebration that was the 1920s. And, although this film is a work of fiction, it still resonated with us; and for 142 minutes, I, at least, felt as if I were there— I was within and without. That film really ignited my interest in the whole time period.
As time progressed, we both began to dig deeper into the experiences that the war gave— and part of that was acquiring relics from it.
One hundred years is a long time, perhaps longer than most people realize. But the acquisition of the relics from the war afforded us a true connection through time— to know that this item came from such a colossal event in history and that you had, by whatever means, crossed paths with. It made you wonder “who had this, what did this person experience?”, and it was (and still is) a true human connection with history. It wasn’t any longer a simple history textbook paragraph, but something really real, but it still felt somewhat distant.
After collecting these relics for a while, Seth and I talked about “what if we actually got to go to France and see these things?” At that time, we came to the conclusion that “it would happen some day,” but that was more or less wishful thinking; I don’t think either of us expected that we would go to France. But, as it came to pass, we went to France— a real blessing. When we actually saw the battlefields in France, the real shell-holes scarred into the earth, the countless memorials throughout the country (at least one in every village), the extensive museums, it all became so much more real. It was only in France that we realized the full magnitude of the war, and that the war was much more relevant to all of us than we realized.
Upon our return from our first trip to France, we went back at collecting and researching with a renewed vigor: in school we would spend all of our free time (and some time when we should’ve been doing work) searching for period photographs, documents, reference information— the whole nine yards. We spent our time out of school going to libraries to search for even the smallest bits of information that was overlooked, we spent our weekends at countless antique stores and gun shows and militaria shows, we spent our evenings writing Instagram posts, and spent our nights reading books about the war. But we also decided that we didn’t want to just take an ‘outside’ approach to the war, we wanted to be active in it. And so we got into re-enacting and living history, so that we could bring the history of the war to life to those who weren’t as lucky as us to have the same experiences Seth and I have. Re-enacting, more specifically living history, has enabled us to actively share our passion with the world and has granted us so many experiences that the average person doesn’t experience. It has allowed us to keep the memory of those thirty-seven million alive.
It would come to pass that we would again have the blessing of going to France, this time for a month. I would’ve swore upon my life that I wouldn’t have been able to go back to France, let alone for a month, but we did. We saw even more of the shell-torn earth, the memorials, the cemeteries, and museums. But this time we got to experience something else: people who were like us. We met so many friends in France, and they made the trip what it was. We were real Americans, dressed as doughboys; with real Frenchmen, dressed as poilus; with real Belgians, dressed as jaas; with real Romanians, dressed as their ancestors; with real Italians, dressed as their fathers; and with real Germans, dressed as their forefathers. We were ‘ambassadors’ of the American spirit of the war, and that is the biggest accomplishment of our lives.