Stories of the luck, courage, struggle and service of 17 people across the world and the decades are united by one common thread in an exhibit open in time for Memorial Day at Cantigny Park's First Division Museum.
The commonality among the 17 featured in "Faces of the 1st" is their military service as part of the Army's 1st Infantry Division. Past that, similarities are scarce among the soldiers, nurse, chaplain, canine handler and others featured in the free exhibit, which runs until Sept. 2.
"It tells the story of the 1st Infantry Division from World War I to the current conflict through the stories of 17 individuals," said Galyn Piper, director of publications for the First Division Museum.
The stories come alive through artifacts.
• A field altar kit used by Vietnam War chaplain Wes Geary, containing a Bible, a chalice, a small sculpture of Jesus on a cross and other items allowing Geary to minister to all faiths.
• A pair of singed boots worn by Sgt. Richard Trapp when the canine handler's vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device during a recent deployment in Afghanistan.
• A 20-pound medical bag lugged by Major Jody Schroeder, one of the first nurses assigned to the 1st Infantry Division. She was in charge of caring for 3,000 soldiers in Iraq.
• A replica of a journal kept by World War I Corporal Marlin Burns, whose calligraphy-style handwriting tells of his trench warfare training during a bleak winter in France, which "was the intensivest any company in the Army got."
• Even a bullet-pierced helmet stamped "SWAMP RATS," worn by Vietnam War Sgt. Ron Campsey, who avoided death when the bullet struck because he had adjusted the helmet the previous day.
Videos and photos viewable on four iPads add a multimedia aspect to the exhibit, which was more than a year in the making. Visitors can watch Trapp conduct training drills with his service dog or hear Schroeder discuss the gravity of her responsibility as a combat nurse.
"One of my jobs was to triage everyone and figure out who needed what when," she says in a video, adding she remembers the names of almost every soldier whose injuries were beyond her care.
Of the 17 1st Division veterans featured in the exhibit, 12 are alive, and Piper said several will attend a grand opening at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 5 at the museum on Cantigny's grounds at 1S151 Winfield Road in Wheaton. There, the veterans will tell firsthand their stories of luck, courage, struggle and service in the Army's 1st Division.