South Dakota in World War One - The Old Courthouse Museum Exhibit
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So this farm kid from Toronoto, South Dakota grows up, goes to college and ends up with a journalism degree from the University of South Dakota. He gets a job at a Sioux Falls newspaper.
The thing is, it's 1917. The guy quits his newspaper job and enlists in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, America's fledgling air force. There's a shortage of pilots so he figures he'll be made an officer sooner than later. He admits he doesn't know anything about flying but is told not to worry about it. "Well," they tell him, "nobody else does either."
He's 21. The Army sends him to California for pilot training. He learns to fly some of the first aircraft ever designed and built to carry big, heavy bombs. He goes to Texas for more training, then goes to New York City to wait for a ship. In 1918, he sails to England for still more training. Once there, he learns to fly England's biggest, heaviest and most dangerous bomber.
And then, Armistice. He celebrates like everybody else and goes home.
He goes back to being a journalist and after a couple of interim jobs, he's hired as an editor at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. He works there for 33 years, finally retiring in 1961 as the paper's executive editor. Along the way he's praised as a terrific journalist, philanthropist, and all-around civic leader. He's one of the first to be inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.
His name was Fred C. Christopherson*.
Christopherson's World War One uniform, which looks as sharp and crisp as it likely did a hundred years ago, is on display in an exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls. The exhibit summarizes World War One and details South Dakota's role in the conflict. Some elements of the exhibit come with rich and well-documented histories, like the Christopherson uniform. Other relics sort of speak for themselves.
Relics and war booty - old rifles, machine guns, bayonets, hand grenades and the like - are displayed in cases set into the walls of a simulated trench.
Another part of the exhibit features the music of the era.
A wall is plastered with propaganda posters and other wartime artworks.
There's a case containing some of the ribbons and decorations of the time. Awards for valor, campaign, good conduct, and so on. About 29-thousand South Dakotans served during World War I. Many saw combat.
One section is dedicated to remembering the role of women in the war and on the homefront.
A child's army-style jacket is displayed next to a small toy cannon aimed at a paper cutout of Kaiser Wilhelm, which was sold with the cannon.
Some of the many photographs in the exhibit were taken on European battlefields. Others were shot closer to home.
Portraits of fallen South Dakota soldiers look back from honor roll posters that resemble pages from an old high school year book.
"World War One - The Great War" can be seen at the Old Courthouse Museum, Main and 6th St. in downtown Sioux Falls. Admission is free. Visit the Museum's Web site for more information.