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Your 10 favorite military history stories of 2017

The sound of a cart rolling down my hallway always makes my ears perk up. My desk is near the workspace for the Division of Armed Forces History and I sometimes catch staff members carefully transporting military history objects on carts. Whether they're moving the objects for photography or an evaluation by the Objects Conservation Lab, my colleagues often stop and share what they've got with curious social media managers like me. A few days before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, for example, I spotted Curator Frank Blazich transporting these plates from the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia (BB-48). Before continuing on his way to the photo studio, Frank paused to explain that during the attack on Pearl Harbor, West Virginia was struck by seven torpedo and two bomb hits, killing 106 of her crew and sinking the ship.

Gold colored plaque with text
This plate from the U.S.S. West Virginia may have been removed between June 1942 and July 1944, when the ship was undergoing extensive repairs and modernization. After sinking at Pearl Harbor, the West Virginia was refloated on May 17, 1942, and the navy repaired and modernized the battleship. Arriving back in Pearl Harbor in September 1944, West Virginia would participate in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and be present in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

In addition to having a great desk location at the museum, I'm also lucky enough to manage our blog. That means I get to read all the posts we publish before you do—and I also get to peek under the hood and see which posts are attracting the most readers. In 2017 you were very enthusiastic for military history. Perhaps your passion was inspired by the World War I centennial anniversaries happening now or the recent airing of The Vietnam War by Ken Burns on PBS. Or maybe your love of military history comes from the fact that these stories of heroism, service, innovation, and more are just really interesting. Whichever way, here are your favorite military history blog posts of 2017. The best way to avoid missing our posts is to subscribe to our blog by email.

Number 8 made of metal
This number eight may have marked the eighth Babcock & Wilcox boiler on the U.S.S. West Virginia.

1) The World War I story behind the act that made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens

Just before the U.S. entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act. It made Puerto Ricans citizens of the United States. Two months later, the Selective Service Act of 1917 allowed the U.S. to draft soldiers, including Puerto Ricans, to serve in World War I. Verónica Rivera-Negrón, Latino Studies Fellow in residence, shared four objects in Puerto Rican history from our collection to commemorate the centennial of the Jones Act.

2) A Vietnam War combat photographer makes the ultimate sacrifice

Photo of young man with film camera
A student in the motion picture photograph school, U.S. Army Signal Center and School, at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, William T. Perkins Jr. is seen here working with a Mitchell 35mm motion picture camera as he and fellow students practice making a reenlistment film. Courtesy of Jacobson Collection.

A selfless act by a brave young Marine moved many of you. Corporal William T. Perkins Jr. wanted to be where the action was—and to capture it on film. During the Vietnam War, the 20-year-old from Los Angeles saved those around him in battle.

3) War is over, let’s make some intricate and impressive medals

Silver metal with maritime battle scene
John Paul Jones, Bonhomme Richard vs. Serapis, United States, 1779. This is one of the Comitia Americana medals created to commemorate American bravery in the Revolutionary War.

You’d think the Continental Congress would have other things on its mind at the time, but in March 1776 it voted to create a series of medals called the Comitia Americana. Powerful diplomatic tools, the medals are incredibly beautiful. One of my favorites depicts a naval battle, with busted ships, military personnel floundering in the water, and dramatic plumes of billowing smoke.

4) Knitting needles at the ready during World War I

Have you noticed that our interns get really hands-on with history? One baked a loaf of bread from an 1896 recipe, another spent all day churning up 1927-style strawberry ice cream, and a third decided she just had to whip up a batch of deodorant using a 1903 recipe. Intern Miranda Johnson joined the fun, experiencing what it was like to knit gloves, wristlets, and helmet liners for World War I soldiers as many people did on the homefront during the war.

5) When Uncle Sam needs to borrow Fido

Comic page in color featuring a dog during wartime
Chips, a K-9 Corps hero dog, even had his own comic during World War II.

Can you imagine sending your family dog to war? That’s exactly what the Dogs for Defense program asked families to do during World War II. One of the most famous dogs who served in the war was Chips. At one point, the Husky/German Shepherd/Collie mix attacked a nest of Italian gunners. He also got away with biting General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Chips returned home to his family in Pleasantville, New York.

6) Military messages on money circulate during wartime

This blog post contains the story of a sword made of coins, which was enough to pique my curiosity. There's also money issued to prisoners of war during World War I, a failed attempt to use postage as money during the Civil War, and an ancient coin with a horned portrait of Alexander the Great.

7) After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Alice Tetsuko Kono was inspired to "be useful"

Black and white studio photo of a woman in uniform
Alice Tetsuko Kono in her Women's Army Corps uniform, around 1943

Alice Tetsuko Kono wasn't very tall. Her concerned family hoped that would slow down her dream of serving in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. Despite her family's fears for her safety, Kono was accepted and left her home in Molokai, Hawaii, to drill in physical training, learn language skills, and make a difference in the war effort. Kono's service is particularly interesting considering that many Japanese Americans were considered "enemy aliens" and, in the western United States, many were removed to incarceration camps.

8) From the Archives Center, a look at anti-war movements in primary sources

I had never heard of the 1967 March on the Pentagon but it must have been a sight to see, with between 50,000 and 150,000 opponents of the war in Vietnam protesting at the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon. The stories of the march's colorful leader and the creative tactics protesters used to express their opposition to the war were riveting—and even more so because they are told through real documents, posters, and photos from the era.

9) An artist's view of World War I

An illustration of a head of a man. He has a floppy cap on with a green ribbon and a large mustache and appears to be smiling.
"German Prisoner Type" drawing by William James Aylward, 1918. Gift of the War Department, Historical Branch of the General Staff.

Sporting a mustache and sparkling, mischievous eyes, the drawing of a German soldier who had become a prisoner of war during World War I captured my attention right away. The Great War seems so remote to me, so it was incredible to see illustrations of individual participants with their own unique quirks and secrets. These drawings from prisoner of war camps, battlefields, and first aid stations helped me envision the war in a whole new way.

10) Raise your teacups for the war effort

Amanda Moniz, our David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy, often mentions that the history of philanthropy gets particularly interesting during wartime. That was especially true for me when I learned about the charitable activities of Lillian Gary Taylor, a woman of substantial financial means and social connections who participated in the war effort in a special way. Brew a cup of tea and give this one a read.

What military history topics do you want us to explore in 2018? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter, history fans! I'll be listening.

Erin Blasco manages the museum's social media and blog. Her favorite military history blog post tells the story of a Buffalo Soldier who served in World War I, but she also enjoyed considering if our blog posts on Game of Thrones or Star Wars counted for this list.