The soldiers hunkered down in trenches, day after day fighting grueling battles on the Western Front.

On one side were the Americans and the Allies. On the other, the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. It was World War I, the "War to End All Wars."

New exhibits at three Baton Rouge museums are commemorating the centennial of the year the United States entered the war.

The USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, the Capitol Park Museum and Louisiana's Old State Capitol are recognizing this pivotal historic event with special exhibits, all of which open at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, with free public receptions. Free trolley transportation will run to all three museums, each of which will be serving refreshments.

The Kidd examines "Voices From the Lost Generation: Louisianians in World War I 1917-1918," while the Capitol Park Museum looks at "For Home and Country: Louisiana in the Great War." At the Old State Capitol, the focus is on "Campaigning for Victory: Poster Art of the Great War."

More than 4 million American military personnel were mobilized, and more than 110,000, died, in World War I, which was triggered by the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914. Eventually, all of the world's major economic powers joined the fray.

The U.S., as an independent power that militarily cooperated with the Allies, declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

Many American soldiers fought and died in the trenches, which were fortified by barbed wire, mines and other obstacles, to protect them from enemy fire and artillery.

At the USS Kidd, a trench has been reproduced on the second floor of the museum, and visitors will be able to walk through it, while the sounds of battle rage above. There's even a dugout to duck inside, simulating how soldiers tried to survive the enemy's attacks.

A periscope depicts what the army could see across "no-man's land," the ground that divided the two sides.

"You'll be able to look through the periscope to an idea of how it was," says David Beard, the museum's executive director.

In addition, the Kidd's exhibit will include a local collection of uniforms and stories from the homefront.

In the Capitol Park Museum's exhibit is a helmet, likely worn by a soldier fighting in one of those trenches. 

A bullet whistled through the metal helmet, blasting a gaping hole in one side. Somehow, the soldier lived.

"Did he stand up and look out of the trench, or did he put the helmet on a stick and hold it up to see where the gunfire would be coming from?" asks Bill Stark, director of the Capitol Park Museum.

There also is a helmet from the other side — a German Baden Infantry helmet, made of black leather, fronted by an eagle insignia and topped by a spike.

"The spike looks decorative, but it was there for defense," Stark says. "It could deflect something coming at you or falling on you."

The Louisiana homefront also is a theme in the Capitol Park exhibit, which also explores mobilization, highlighting the state's efforts to recruit and train soldiers and the struggles of Louisiana businesses to supply them; the war front, focusing on Louisiana soldiers and the medical and administrative personnel who supported them; and memorialization, showing how Americans marked the war's end. Artifacts include a gold star flag, recruitment posters, military uniforms, a Mauser Tankgewehr M1918, trench art, a souvenir pillow from Camp Beauregard and a medical kit used in the field by a doctor from Crowley.

But the star of this show is a Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun.

"The Hotchkiss was used by both the French and the Americans," says Kyle Neff, administrative coordinator. "Ours was built in 1900, and it used an 8 mm Lebel cartridge."

A brass plaque notes that the gun was donated to the Louisiana State Museum system by the "French Republic," though it doesn't include a year. A stationary bikelike seat is welded at the bottom for the shooter, who operated the gun with a pistol grip.

"You had to have someone to feed the cartridge into the gun," Neff says. "And this gun is fully operational."

The Old State Capitol will be showing some 50 American propaganda posters from the Great War, complemented by local photographs and mementos American soldiers either wore or carried.

The posters were collected by an LSU history professor during World War I, then donated in the 1930s to the Louisiana American Legion office, which was in the Old State Capitol. 

"They were hanging at the Old State Capitol before it became a museum, then they were sent to the Louisiana State Archives," says Lauren Davis, the Old State Capitol's curator. "So, in a sense, they're coming back home, and one of the things that surprised me is how many women are featured on them."

The posters were created by well-known American artists as a powerful means of educating the public and spurring them to action during war time. Women were used as motivational symbols.

"The posters showed women as the reason for fighting," Davis says. "It was like, 'This is why you're fighting,' and it was always for a sweetheart or mom."

The exhibit also will include a few German items, all of which were souvenirs collected by American soldiers.


One Night, Three Museums: The Great War Comes to Louisiana

Opening receptions at the Capitol Park Museum, Louisiana's Old State Capitol and the USS Kidd Veterans Museum 

WHEN: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28.

For Home and Country: Louisiana in the Great War

WHERE: Capitol Park Museum, 660 N. Fourth St.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Through June 30.

ADMISSION: $6; $5 for students, seniors, active military; free for ages 6 and younger; 15 percent discount for groups of 15 or more with reservations.

INFORMATION: (225) 342-5428 or louisianastatemuseum.org/museums/capitol-park-museum.

Campaigning for Victory: Poster Art of the Great War

WHERE: Old State Capitol, 100 North Blvd.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Through Dec. 16.

ADMISSION: Free.

INFORMATION: (225) 342-0500 or (800) 488-2968 or louisianaoldstatecapitol.org.

Voices From the Lost Generation: Louisianans in World War I 1917-1918

WHERE: USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, 305 S. River Road.

WHEN: Through Dec. 31. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.   

ADMISSION: $10; $8 for seniors, veterans, military; $6 for ages 5-12; free for ages 4 and younger.

INFORMATION: (225) 342-1942 or usskidd.com.

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.