The world wars of the 20th century operated on a scale so large it can be difficult to comprehend beyond abstract pages in a history book. A mobile museum soon visiting the Williamsburg Regional Library aims to add perspective with more personal stories of fellow Virginians who contributed to some of the most pivotal moments in history.
"You're looking at X number of World War II veterans passing away daily, so preserving those particular stories is important," said Rob Haas, the library's program services director. "The bulk of these folks are not the generals and the folks who wrote the history."
The Profiles of Honor Mobile World War I and World War II Museum's visit coincides with the 100th anniversary of the nation's entry into World War I and many 75-year milestones for World War II, including the arrival of U.S. troops in Great Britain, the momentous Battle of Midway and the beginning of the months-long Battle of Stalingrad.
The museum, operated by the Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission, celebrates the impact of everyday Virginians in both conflicts. Its interactive exhibits share 40-plus such stories alongside interactive opportunities like a climbable replica tank. The commission took inspiration from a similar Civil War mobile museum, which toured in 2015 to commemorate 150 years since the end of that war.
"Having a mobile museum that goes into the community and can participate in events like the one in Williamsburg really is an invaluable way for people to connect in the community," said Cheryl Jackson, the commission's executive director. "The main thing is to personalize that experience."
Throughout the month, the library will also host other events that complement the museum visit. A National Archives photography exhibit at the adjacent Stryker Center shares snapshots of life on the homefront through Sunday. Authors Tim and Laura Orr will appear Saturday to discuss the life of a bomber pilot, N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss, who helped turn the tide during the Battle of Midway. Film screenings include "To Hell and Back" and "War Horse" later in August.
Through a partnership with the Library of Virginia, the commission is also bringing a scanner and inviting people to contribute family photos, letters and other documents in an effort to digitally preserve such history. The scanned items will be archived and viewable on the websites for both the Library of Virginia and the commission.
"You can contribute your own story and honor your own heroes," Jackson said. "We really try to preserve them so that the generations to come will be better able to remember this time. The stories are the highlight."
The effort honors the grandfathers, uncles and others glossed over in the history books, whose stories are often equally as profound as those more well-known.
"The biggest takeaway I think is that their story matters," Jackson said. "Every story matters."
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.
Want to go?
The Profiles of Honor Mobile World War I and World War II Museum will set up outside Williamsburg Regional Library 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. The museum is handicap accessible. Related events at the library include:
•The Legacy of Battle of Midway Dive Bomber Pilot N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss, 11 a.m. on Saturday
•York River Concert Band, 2 p.m. on Saturday
•The Dogs of the 221st Military Police Detachment, 2 p.m. on Sunday
•Nazi Occupation of Greece in WWII, 1 p.m. on Wednesday
•"War Horse" screening, movie and book discussion, 5:30-9 p.m. on Aug. 29
For a full schedule of events, visit wrl.org.