DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowans at the Fort Des Moines Museum celebrated Veterans Day with the reopening of an exhibit celebrating two historic firsts in the U.S. military – and in the country.
The National Historic Landmark Museum honors two events in U.S. military history of national significance: the first African-American citizens to serve in the military, and the first women to serve; both trained at Fort Des Moines.
“World War I – almost a hundred years ago – the first African-Americans were trained to become officers,” said museum curator, Jack Lufkin. “And it was a ‘grand experiment’ to see if it would work out, because the military was segregated, and there was a general feeling that blacks weren’t capable of leading soldiers in combat, and that was proven wrong. But that experimental class occurred here.”
One world war later, and the women’s suffrage movement would find a first in the U.S. military, too.
“And then we fast-forward to World War II, the first time women were actually allowed to join the Army was the Women’s Army Corps, in World War II, and they were taking non-combat jobs, freeing up men for combat, in World War II,” he said. “And that training of the first 50,000 – 70,000 women, was here at Fort Des Moines.”
The exhibit was closed for some time due to financial restrictions, but Lufkin says they’re proud to reopen to the public on Veterans Day.