Growing up on my small family farm in western Nebraska, I used to dream of going some place more exciting. Virginia, where the Civil War is embroidered into the fabric of their history. Massachusetts, to see the incredible struggle of the American Revolution. South Carolina, to see those awesome Southern mansions. And oh, Europe. I was obsessed with European history. The French Revolution, Napoleon, Georgian England, Regency England. To me, that was where the exciting history was, not boring ol' Nebraska with the Indians and pioneers and covered wagons.
Truth be told, that part of my state's history still doesn't send a thrill through me. But I've now looked at other parts of our history and found myself entranced - specifically the World War II era. The deeper I dig, the more I realize the important role Nebraska played.
The Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, was made in Omaha at the Offutt Air Force Base. It is now on exhibit at Washington D.C.
I worked at Fort Robinson, a fort nestled in the buttes of northwest Nebraska, and became intrigued with the fact that German POWs were housed there during World War II - and this became the focus of my graduate thesis years later. An army training center for K-9 dogs was here, as well, and if you ever get the chance to visit this place, it's well worth it. The original buildings are still standing and it is a beautiful location.
The North Platte Canteen in North Platte, Nebraska, was a stopping point for many soldiers on their way to war. Citizens of this small town and Nebraskans for miles around volunteered their time to bake cakes and make sandwiches and coffee and whatever else was needed to give to the soldiers on their short stop. Although the canteen doesn't exist anymore, it's been the subject of a book and a film documentary.
My own family was involved with World War II, of course. My grandfather used to tell me stories of how they would go to the Italian POW camp in my hometown and pick up prisoners to help work on the farm. Since my grandfather's family came from Italy, it was a natural fit. My brother focused on this small POW camp for one of his papers in college (he's also a fellow history major!).
What does all of this prove? That for years, I neglected to look in my own backyard for the history that I loved.
Lesson learned. And this weekend, when my dad comes for a visit, I'm taking him to the Nebraska History Museum to look at their amazing World War II exhibit. He's a big World War II buff, too, so I'm sure we'll have a great time.
Take the time to look at the history in your own backyard. You never know what you might find!
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