FORT LEE, Va. – In a continuation to Fort Lee’s Centennial Celebration, the installation museums are sponsoring a World War I Living History event Sept. 16, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., in the area near the museums.
This free event – open to the community – will bring participants back to the activation and training of the 80th Division at Camp Lee during WWI.
Camp Lee was constructed to train up the 80th Division of the National Army for service in WWI, said Richard Killblane, Transportation Corps command historian. The unit was recruited from Virginia, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. The 80th Division officers did not arrive at Camp Lee until late August and the enlisted men began arriving the first week in September.
“The event will consist of living history displays outside the museums and lectures and displays inside,” he said. “The 80th Division living historians will demonstrate and run volunteers through the training WWI recruits went through under the supervision of the French and British military advisors. Other living historians will represent the veterinary school at Camp Lee, the remount station, Salvation Army stand and WWI staff car. These living history impressions will bring to life the activities that took place on Camp Lee during WWI.”
There are also new WWI exhibits inside both museums and several private collectors will display their artifacts from the 80th Division, said Killblane, which help show the life of individual 80th Division Soldiers.
“The combination of museum displays and private collections during this one-day event will provide an excellent opportunity to learn about WWI through historic artifacts,” he said.
Little remains on Fort Lee from its days of Camp Lee. The general layout of the streets and the Davis House on C Avenue are the two most recognized. But there’s another physical reminder that exists.
“Fort Lee has sections of the actual trenches dug by the soldiers of the 80th Division while they were here,” Killblane said. “These trenches were dug for the purpose of familiarizing the Soldiers with trench warfare. Fort Lee is one of the few military installations that has remaining WWI trenches and these have been preserved by the post archeologists. At noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. the day of the event, Dr. Ken Finlayson, CASCOM historian, will conduct tours of the trenches.”
Those interested should meet at the museum.
Training at Camp Lee took an ‘army’ made of Soldiers, government civilians, morale and support institutions like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, very similar to today’s Army, said Ron Bingham, Army Women’s Museum technician.
“While the Army was primarily made up of infantrymen, those troops needed support troops like the quartermasters who train mules, veterinarians who kept horses healthy, transportation Soldiers who drove staff cars and supply trucks and the Red Cross who trained Army nurses,” said Bingham. “These people will be featured at the event, as well.”
The event will also feature five distinguished lecturers:
• Elizabeth Dinger, National Park Service, will speak first on “The Cost of War – Petersburg’s Sacrifice in WWI” at 11 a.m.
• Aaron Rowland, National Park Service, will talk about “The Evolution of Fortifications from the Civil War to WWI” at noon.
• Alexander Barnes, Virginia National Guard historian, will lecture on the “Mobilization of the U.S. Army” at 1 p.m.
• Dr. Lee S. Anthony, 80th Division Veterans’ Association historian, will describe “The 80th Division during WWI” at 2 p.m.
• The former Quartermaster Historian, Dr. Leo Hirrel will talk about a topic near and dear to every logistician’s heart, “Supplying the Doughboy” at 3 p.m.
Another treat for attendees is that 80th Division veterans of WWII will attend the event from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The event will end with the installation Retreat Ceremony at 4:15 p.m. and will feature ex-military members in WWI-era uniforms.