65 Years

“65 Years,” a special exhibit opening May 27 and running through Veterans Day, boasts nearly 500 artifacts arranged in surprising ways, creating a dynamic visual experience for all who step into the museum’s transformed lobby space.

For a sense of drama, the objects are presented in a countdown format starting at 65, a nod to Cantigny Park’s 65th anniversary year now in progress. Like the military museum itself, the blockbuster exhibit combines history, storytelling and cutting-edge curation to make a lasting impression on guests.

Visitors will learn about the original museum, housed in the former horse stable that is now the Cantigny Visitors Center. When opened in 1960, two years after the park, it was called the Cantigny War Memorial Museum of the First Division. The present-day and much larger First Division Museum opened in 1992 and received a major renovation in 2017.

Sneak Preview

About the Exhibit

“The exhibit is meant to be nostalgic for all the families and guests who have come to the park for generations, as well as a chance to share our deep connection to the First Division and its members,” said Jessica Waszak, assistant curator.

That connection begins with Colonel Robert R. McCormick, Cantigny’s benefactor, who served in the First Division during World War I. The museum honors his legacy and the service and sacrifice of all military veterans, telling their stories and the story of America’s military experience through the lens of the 1st Infantry Division or “Big Red One.”

The items in “65 Years” represent the mundane and the momentous, from boots, helmets and cigarette lighters to heroic patches, medals, and flags. They depict the everyday lives of soldiers while commemorating exceptional lives of service and sacrifice for our country.

Some of the nearly 500 artifacts will be on public display for the first time. The objects are organized in 17 categories, with emphasis on soldiers’ personal stories. Underlying the exhibit is the trust that artifact donors extend to the First Division Museum as a repository of precious family memorabilia and narratives.

They vaunt not their exploits, but their neighbors grant them their honor earned… But the First Division will never die in the memory of gallant people. For them it will march on forever…

Col. Robert R. McCormick

Exhibit Highlight

1st Infantry Division Transport Insignia, gift of Willard G. Wyman

The First Infantry Division is the oldest and continuously active U.S. Army division, the first to arrive in France, the first to see combat, the first to suffer casualties, and the first to win an American victory at the Battle of Cantigny. The soldiers of the Division took pride in these accomplishments, proudly displaying their First Division Insignia and calling themselves the “Big Red One.”

The number one object displays the pride, esprit de corps, encompassed in the “Big Red One.” This First Infantry Division grill ornament was part of the jeep used by Major General Terry Allen Sr. during WWII. MG Allen was the beloved commander of the First Infantry Division during the North Africa and Sicily campaigns. When Major General Clarence R. Huebner replaced Allen as First Division commander, the jeep transferred to Brigadier General Willard Wyman, the Assistant Division commander. MG Wyman used the Jeep through the Sicilian Campaign, the Normandy Landing, operations in France and Belgium, and the Battle of Aachen.

In 1958, General Wyman (ret) donated this iconic piece of First Division history. A symbol of the soldiers who wore the “Big Red One,” a storied example of division history, and one of the earliest donations to the collection, the number one artifact is The Big Red One.

Visiting the First Division Museum

65 Years officially opens to the public on Saturday May 27, but visitors to the museum may see artifacts from the collection being installed in advance.

The First Division Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm. Admission to “65 Years” at the museum is included with paid entry to Cantigny Park. For more information, visit Cantigny’s hours and fees page or purchase admission in advance below.

Cantigny Park Admission