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Commentary: St. Louis War Memorials And Museums Provide Honor Those Who Served and Sacrificed

Nancy Kranzberg

Drive through any city in the world and you will find war memorials dedicated to battles or individual war heroes. Many of the sculptures are made by famous artists. War and the military have been themes in art through the ages.

And St. Louis and Missouri are full of such Museums and sights. Kansas City is home to The National World War l Memorial and a trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans will lead you to the National WWll Museum which is New Orleans number one sight.

The Missouri Civil War Museum is located in Jefferson Barracks and is well worth a trip. The Jefferson Barracks Military Post is the oldest operational military installation west of the Mississippi.

The Washington University Libraries are now home to more than 400 recruitment posters and an array of wartime memorabilia. And of course the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park has an enormous collection of war related works and Philip Hu of the St. Louis Art Museum says, "When the topic of war and art comes up, the first thing that many people think of are arms and armor, and quite rightly so." But Hu reminded me of the great wealth of paintings, prints, drawings, lithographs and photographs with themes of war that the museum has to show.

And now downtown St Louis boasts of its new revamped Soldiers Memorial Military Museum which features honor and sacrifice with a St. Louis focus. Jody Sowell, director of exhibitions and research for the Missouri Historical Society, says that the Historical Society and the City of St. Louis have come together in a great collaborative effort with U.S. Air Force veteran, Mark Sundlov as the new director of Soldiers Memorial.

A two-year 30 million dollar renovation has completely updated and upgraded Soldiers Memorial and its Court of Honor. Originally built in 1938, the Art Deco building had no air-conditioning and was not fully accessible. Now, a museum quality HVAC system, new electrical wiring, fire suppression and security systems make the building comfortable and safer for visitors. Ramps, lifts and closed captioning on video elements within the exhibit areas put the building within ADA compliance, allowing those with mobility, hearing or vision issues to enjoy the site.

Jody Sowell says, "There are many great military museums, but I don't know if there's a museum of this size that focuses on one city.” Improvements to the Court of Honor on Chestnut Street in front of the museum include a Five Branches Fountain and a beautiful reflecting pool. The Court of Honor was created in 1948 to memorialize St. Louisans who died in WWII. Monuments honoring those who lost their lives while serving in Korea and Vietnam are included. Chestnut Street was narrowed and includes a protected bike lane. A grassy area is a meditative space and is equipped to host special programs.

“St. Louis in Service,” Soldiers Memorial's signature exhibit, explores military history through the lens of St .Louis and those who have served from the American Revolution to today. Some of the works on exhibit are a ship's bell from 1906 from the deck of the USS St. Louis, an Iran hostage POW bracelet from 1980, a French 11th Field Artillery uniform of Lt. Joseph Desloge, ca.1916 and the Broken sword of Lt. Col. John Knapp, 1860. As commander of the 1st Regiment of the Missouri Volunteer Militia during the Civil War, John Knapp chose to destroy his weapon rather than surrender it during the capture of Camp Jackson by the Union army.

Even if you don't have personal family members remembered at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, what a beautiful museum and wonderful tribute to those who served our country. It would take many trips to soak in all the information and enjoy the videos.

Thanks to the Missouri Historical Society and the City of St .Louis and especially to the Taylor Family who have once again helped make St. Louis shine and another special thank you to Dr. Frances Levine for urging me to see for myself what a masterpiece the museum has become.


Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.