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updated: 8/25/2017 4:45 PM

First Division Museum to celebrate reopening with military pageantry

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  • The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton will reopen Saturday after an $8.5 million renovation project.

      The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton will reopen Saturday after an $8.5 million renovation project.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • A new gallery in Cantigny Park's First Division Museum chronicles the Army's 1st Infantry Division in the years after Vietnam. The space focuses on five missions: deterrence, peacekeeping, battle, counterinsurgency and military assistance.

      A new gallery in Cantigny Park's First Division Museum chronicles the Army's 1st Infantry Division in the years after Vietnam. The space focuses on five missions: deterrence, peacekeeping, battle, counterinsurgency and military assistance.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

A newly renovated Wheaton museum dedicated to the Army's oldest division will reopen Saturday with a celebration steeped in military tradition.

From their base in Fort Riley, Kansas, soldiers will travel to the First Division Museum on the grounds of Cantigny Park to fire a 21-gun salute.

Such a ceremony is performed at presidential inaugurations and military funerals. On Saturday, it will honor "100 years of unbroken service and 13,500 soldiers who gave their lives" in the 1st Infantry Division, said Paul Herbert, the museum's executive director.

The reopening also will commemorate the centennial of the division organized in 1917 during World War I. The "Big Red One" observed the milestone in June, but museum officials decided to mark the anniversary and the unveiling Saturday so troops who recently returned home from their deployment to Iraq could attend.

Earlier this year, Herbert, a retired Army colonel, visited the division headquarters in Baghdad and met with suburban soldiers and their commanding general during their mission to support Iraqi operations against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Herbert will host Major Gen. Joseph Martin and other dignitaries at the museum Saturday.

"This helps cement that relationship between us and them," Herbert said.

Through the lens of the division's history in battle, the museum tells a "national story," Herbert said. The main gallery, called "First in War," begins with the division's origins in WWI. Its exhibits show the evolution in weaponry and tactics through D-Day and the Vietnam era.

Display panels and videos quote soldiers in their own words describing the emotional toll of combat.

"The other thing you'll see throughout is the soldier's voice integrated into the entire museum," said A.J. Goehle, a strategy and design director for Luci Creative, a Lincolnwood firm hired for the remodel.

The $8.5 million, nearly yearlong project created "Duty First," the museum's new gallery that focuses on military action around the world in the years after Vietnam.

The local connection to that national story? Cantigny Park is the former estate of Col. Robert McCormick, who served in the division during World War I and championed veterans' causes. He fought in the Battle of Cantigny and renamed his sprawling property after the French village.

"That was a profound experience in his life," Herbert said of the Chicago Tribune publisher.

Herbert hopes museum tours will inspire pride, a sense of identity and heritage for Fort Riley soldiers visiting the campus. He hopes civilians gain a deeper understanding of contemporary military affairs.

"We have a responsibility to have an informed opinion on where we're sending our soldiers and why and what they do," he said.

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