Mansfield News

Special exhibit honors WWI veterans

Old newspaper headlines, model aircraft, decorations from an Army uniform – all parts of a hazy picture Joel Nichols has assembled over the past half century of his grandfather’s World War, the one supposed to end all war.

This week, his memorabilia will displayed in the Mansfield Historical Museum and Heritage Center, a commemoration of Veterans Day and the 100th anniversary of the assassination that sparked World War I.

“I’ve collected things probably since my teens,” said Nichols, 67, a veteran of 22 years active and reserve service in the Army and Air Force, including two tours of Vietnam. “I have a relatively limited amount of these compared with World War II and Vietnam. But I have enough to go along with what the museum already has, to give tribute.”

Communities across the nation are planning special Veterans Day commemoration events to mark this centennial year of the war.

The Mansfield Historical Museum, which opened in 2002 at 102 N. Main St., will host the exhibit through Saturday. Its own World War I artifacts, including a steel helmet, bayonet and a mannequin dressed in full uniform, will be displayed alongside Nichols’ collection.

“It’s important for people to go to museums and recognize Veterans Day,” said museum specialist Vern Raven. “It’s an interesting thing to do, and a patriotic thing to do.”

The 4 1/2-year conflict was triggered June 28, 1914, when a Serbian nationalist fatally shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia. One month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, setting off a chain reaction of more than 20 countries entering the war to honor treaties and mutual-aid agreements.

An estimated 10 million military personnel were killed during the conflict, along with 7 million civilians, according to official sources cited by Wikipedia. More than 4.5 million of the civilian deaths were caused by disease and malnutrition, which also were responsible for about one-third of military deaths, including soldiers who died as prisoners of war.

The first American troops didn’t enter the war until June 1917, after the U.S. declared war on Germany two months earlier. Nevertheless, the U.S. military suffered more than 116,000 deaths, including 53,000 in direct combat. More than 200,000 American fighters were wounded.

The vast majority of those casualties occurred when the largest American units engaged in combat during the last few months of the war in 1918, Nichhols noted.

“The combat was horrific,” said Nichols, a member of the Mansfield Historical Society. In addition to deaths in battle, many other Americans “died from food poisoning, diseases that spread through the camps.”

The museum has a list of more than 130 Mansfield residents who served in the war, when the city’s population was just more than 600.

“Most people don’t recognize the impact,” Nichols added. “I had a grandfather in the war, but that was common for my generation. There was not a family in Mansfield or Texas or the United States that was not affected by the war.”