‘The Vietnam War: 1945-1975’ at National WWI Museum and Memorial

More than 40 years after its conclusion, the Vietnam War remains one of the most controversial events of the 20th century.
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KANSAS CITY, MO. – More than 40 years after its conclusion, the Vietnam War remains one of the most controversial events of the 20th century. How did the conflict begin? Why did it begin? What are the connections between the war and its confounding cousin, World War I?

The National WWI Museum and Memorial will host the special exhibition The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 beginning on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 through Sunday, May 31, 2020. From perspectives covering both the home front and the war front, the exhibition explores themes of patriotism, duty and citizenship through a remarkable collection of objects, documents, photographs and more.

Men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade on a search and destroy patrol after receiving supplies, 1966.

The primary mission of U.S. forces was to destroy the enemy and their logistical network. American ground troops operated throughout South Vietnam, supported by naval and air campaigns. They defended the DMZ, pursued units in the hills along the Central Coast, combed through Viet Cong base areas in the Iron Triangle, and ranged across the upper Mekong Delta as part of an Army-Navy mobile riverine force. 

In conjunction with Veterans Day Weekend (Friday-Monday, Nov. 8-11), admission to the Museum and Memorial is free for veterans and active duty military personnel, while general admission is half-price for the public. Museum and Memorial members can view the exhibition for free during an exclusive preview day on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

“We are honored to serve as the only host institution in the Midwest and the final location for this incredibly important and poignant exhibition,” said National WWI Museum and Memorial President and CEO Dr. Matthew Naylor. “Some might wonder why the National WWI Museum and Memorial would host an exhibition about the Vietnam War. As we seek to achieve our mission of informing the public about the Great War’s enduring impact, events that took place in Vietnam are quite connected to and were most certainly influenced by World War I.”

Bicyclists carry food and ammunition down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1966.

Bikes like these carried food and military supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Young North Vietnamese pushed the bikes, traversing hundreds of miles of Laotian and Cambodian jungle and treacherous mountain passes. Foot soldiers walked the same paths. The journey was pure misery, filled with disease, starvation, and danger from U.S. bombs.

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey spanning the duration of U.S. involvement in Indochina, using compelling storytelling, powerful photography and artifacts that tell the deeply personal stories of the men and women who were affected by the war.

The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 explores themes through fascinating objects, including a troopship berthing unit, vibrant anti-war posters, artwork by Vietnam vets, a Viet Cong bicycle, the Pentagon Papers and historical film footage. More than 300 artifacts, photographs, artworks, documents, films and interactive digital media help to convey the story.

Work for Peace, 1969.

On October 15, 1969, more than a million Americans took part in the Vietnam Moratorium. Across the nation, opponents of the war skipped work and school to attend silent vigils, discussions, and marches. Some took part because they found the war unconscionable. Others believed it unwindable and unnecessary. Many joined the call for peace for the first time. The Moratorium and other multiplying protests worried the Nixon administration. They showed increasing antiwar sentiment among Americans from every walk of life.

An introductory gallery precedes the exhibition, which features documents and historical research from the collection of the Museum and Memorial, helping to illustrate connections between the Great War and the Vietnam War. At the Paris peace talks in 1919, a young man named Nguyễn Sinh Cung requested audiences with world leaders in an attempt to secure independence from France for what eventually became Vietnam. Denied these repeated attempts, he later forged alliances with Communist-leaning leaders and renamed himself Ho Chi Minh.

A bespectacled artillery captain from Missouri, Harry S. Truman said his later decisions were based on his World War I experiences, including providing economic and military aid to France in support of its efforts in Indochina. Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, a young tank captain named Dwight Eisenhower, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, Colonel George C. Marshall and many others deeply involved in World War I had connections to the war in Southeast Asia a few decades later.

Support Our Men poster, 1967.

Thousands in support of the war paraded down Fifth Avenue on May 13, 1967 - just one month after the city's massive Spring Mobilization demonstration against the war. The "Support Our Men" march was a direct response to the growing antiwar movement. Participants included the American Legion, labor unions, and civic associations. Slogans ranged from "Support the Fight for Freedom in Vietnam," to "Bomb Hanoi" and "Pacifists are Commie Rats."

“The intersections of World War I and the Vietnam War are numerous and extensive,” said National WWI Museum and Memorial Senior Curator Doran Cart. “World War I affected virtually every aspect of human life in some manner for the remainder of the 20 century and beyond. The circumstances surrounding the Vietnam War are certainly no different in that regard.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum and Memorial offers a variety of engaging programs. At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, Professor Emeritus of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Dr. James H. Willbanks examines the origins of U.S. involvement in a free program titled “Seeds of the Vietnam War.”

Helmet cover from Hamburger Hill. Courtesy of Salvador L. Gonzalez, 101st Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade, 1/506th Light Infantry, D Company, 1969.

Helmet cover from Hamburger Hill. Courtesy of Salvador L. Gonzales, 101st Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade. 1/506th Light Infantry, D Company, 1969.

Additional programs include: “Exhibitions Up-Close: The Vietnam War 1945-1975” featuring Marci Reaven from the New-York Historical Society (Tuesday, Dec. 3, 6:30 p.m.); a program with decorated veteran and National Book Award finalist Elliot Ackerman on his new book Places and Names: On War, Revolution and Returning (Thursday, Dec. 5, 6:30 p.m.); a Teacher Workshop on how to teach students about the Vietnam War featuring Gilder Lehrman Institute Senior Fellow Ron Nash (Saturday, Jan. 26, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.); a program featuring University of Kansas Professor Dr. Beth Bailey and her latest book project The U.S. Army and the Problem of Race, 1965-1985; a presentation from Chapman University Professor Dr. Greg Daddis focused on his book project Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Men’s Adventure Magazines of the Cold War Era (Thursday, March 19, 6:30 p.m.); a ceremony on National Vietnam War Veterans Day (Sunday, March 29, time TBD); a discussion with Northwestern University Professor Dr. Heather Streets-Salter on how Vietnamese revolutionaries undermined French rule in Indochina during WWI. All programs are free to the public with RSVP.

The exhibition website features a host of supplemental items, including interviews with veterans who served, incredible photographs of the conflict, oral histories from veterans, a family guide for children, curriculum guides for teachers and much more.

Index card with ring left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial sometimes leave items or remembrances. This note with the attached wedding ring of a Vietnamese soldier is among examples that will be on display in the exhibit.

Additionally, the Museum and Memorial will host the AVTT Traveling Vietnam Wall, an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on the Southeast Lawn of the complex from May 14-25, 2020. Visitation of the wall is open to the public.

Outside of special pricing during Veterans Day Weekend and Memorial Day Weekend, admission to The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military and $6 for youth. When combined with a general admission ticket, admission to the exhibition is only an additional $3. Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance at theworldwar.org to avoid lines.

This exhibition has been organized by the New-York Historical Society with special collaboration of the National WWI Museum and Memorial. This traveling exhibition was made possible with major support from Lockton Companies, the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, Bernard L. Schwartz and the Achelis and Bodman Foundation. The presenting sponsors are Mr. and Mrs. John Kornitzer and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Smith, while KCPT is the media sponsor.

About the National WWI Museum and Memorial

The National World WWI Museum and Memorial is America’s leading institution dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community. The Museum and Memorial holds the most comprehensive collection of World War I objects and documents in the world and is the second-oldest public museum dedicated to preserving the objects, history and experiences of the war. The Museum and Memorial takes visitors of all ages on an epic journey through a transformative period and shares deeply personal stories of courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice. Designated by Congress as America’s official World War I Museum and Memorial and located in downtown Kansas City, Mo., the National WWI Museum and Memorial inspires thought, dialogue and learning to make the experiences of the Great War era meaningful and relevant for present and future generations. To learn more, visit theworldwar.org.