WWII Museum Exhibit to Honor Hooved Heroes

The phrase "heroes of the second World War" might conjure up scenes from Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, or Pearl Harbor, but another kind of hero emerges in an exhibit that launched yesterday, July 22, in New Orleans. This hero did not work for pay, but he took pride in a job well done; he was as loyal as any soldier, but with twice as many legs. This hero was the horse.

World War II horse and soldier

A German soldier and his horse during World War II.

The National World War II Museum exhibit, "Loyal Forces: Animals in WWII," commemorates the four animals armed forces used the most--horses, mules, dogs, and pigeons--and the roles these creatures filled in all areas of the war.

The display includes life-sized models of horses and soldiers dressed in authentic World War II saddles and gear, representing both the Allies' and the Axis' equine partnerships. A U.S. Coast Guard horse and rider adorns the museum's mezzanine, while a German horse and soldier stand guard near the entrance to the exhibit. Farther inside, a recorded narration by Hiram Boone, a mule handler for the Army's Mars Task Force, explains the impact of mules in Burma. Mules and horses played a large role in transporting supplies and artillery in various parts of the world, and horses were particularly useful for the Coast Guard’s shore patrols and other defensive measures at home, according to an Associated Press article.

Although the veterinary portion of the exhibit mainly focuses on canine care, horse health care is not without its place in the exhibit. Visitors will find a German horse veterinary kit on display, complete with an interactive touch-screen display for learning about the kit's contents.

"Certainly veterinary medicine has changed quite a bit in 60 years," Toni Kiser, the museum's registrar and co-curator of the exhibit, told TheHorse.com, explaining that many of the items are now considered very harsh and outdated. Even so, she was excited to learn that not everything had changed about horse health care. One item in the kit, copper sulfate, is still used today to treat thrush. "[It was] cool to find out that some things have lasted even this long."

Stories of feathered messengers' bravery , an assortment of photographs of many different animals, and a slideshow of some of the more exotic creatures the U.S. soldiers encountered also make up the exhibit. Kiser wanted to fairly represent the sacrifices made by many animals during the war, hoping that the exhibit truly showed the importance of their contribution.

"One thing that I hope we were able to get across is that we're not talking about a bear that somebody trained to pull ammunition," she said, referring to Wojtek, a bear trained by the Polish military to do just that during World War II. "We're talking about hundreds of thousands of animals that were highly trained, and people who were highly trained, and they really did make a significant effort in the war and our ability to win."

"Loyal Forces: Animals in WWII" runs through Oct. 17. To find out more about the exhibit or to buy tickets, visit the National World War II Museum's website.

About the Author

Courtney LeMay, Editorial Intern

Courtney LeMay was editorial intern for The Horse for the summer of 2010. She attends Asbury Univeristy, planning to graduate in 2013 with a double major in Journalism and Media Communications. She is currently the senior staff features writer for her school paper, the Asbury Collegian, as well as a member of the swim team.

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