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History Matters: Delaware during World War II exhibit

Photo courtesy: Delaware Public Archives

History Matters digs into the Delaware Historical Society’s archives each month to explore connections between key people, places, and events in history and present-day news.

Last month’s 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion brought a renewed interest in World War II history, including here in the First State.

In this month’s History Matters, Delaware Public Media visited the Delaware Public Archives for a look at its “Delaware during World War II” exhibit.

History Matters: Delaware During World War II

Delaware Public Media visits the Delaware during World War II exhibit at the Delaware Public Archives

Culled from thousands of pictures and documents in the Archives collection from that period, the exhibit examines the First State’s role in the conflict both overseas and on the home front.

Archives director Stephen Marz says those working at the Archives during the war, led by then State Archivist Leon Devalinger Jr., went out of their way to save materials from that era in response to how little material the state had preserved from the World War I era. That effort left a robust collection of material to chose from and Marz says he turned to those alive during that era to help craft the exhibit.

“We had some people that were part of the war come an look at some of the photographs that we have here, some of the documents – what did t mean to them. If I got one of those ‘Oh my God’ moments – I didn’t know you had that stuff, that was in the exhibit,” said Marz.

Over 30,000 thousand Delawareans served, and over 800 died in World War Two. Those that died are remembered in a memorial volume that is part of the exhibit.

The Archives put the memorial volume together in the four years following the war by reaching out to the families of those that died for information and recollections.

Marz says it tells very personal stories of those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

“We have materials from people that were engaged and planned to get married after the war, about people’s sons, and loved ones and brothers," said Marz. "So you really get a sense of who these individuals were, what they meant to somebody and their contribution.”

In addition to the memorial volume, the exhibit highlights the contribution of African-Americans and women to the war effort, as well as propaganda posters from that era.

The exhibit can be seen in person at the Archives or online through the end of the year.

This piece is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency dedicated to nurturing and supporting the arts in Delaware, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.