By C. David Gordon
DEVENS -- As a new book, "Americans in Occupied Belgium 1914-1918" by Ed and Libby Klekowski shows, Americans became a part of the First World War struggle against German invasion long before the United States entered the war in 1917.
The Klekowskis talk about their book starting at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 17, at Fort Devens Museum's open house marking Armed Forces Day.
Their program continues the museum's recognition of the 100th anniversary of World War I, to lead up to activities in 2017 commemorating the centennial of the construction and opening of Camp Devens in 1917.
In the past year, the museum has screened for the public two hour-long documentaries on the war that the Klekowskis made for American Public Television -- one on American Field Service ambulance drivers and the second on America's 26th or Yankee Division and its part in combat on the Western Front.
In setting the background for their studies leading to the publication of the book, the Klekowskis note that in World War I, Belgium was "the first country invaded, the longest occupied, and when the war (was) finally over, the first forgotten."
They add, "In 1914, Belgium was home to a large American colony which included representatives of American companies, artists, writers and diplomats with the American Legation. After the invasion, American journalists and adventurers flocked there to follow the action. Military restrictions on travel were less stringent (there) than in England or France.
"As the most industrialized country in Europe, Belgium depended upon trade and food imports to support its economy. The war isolated Belgium and wholesale starvation was imminent by the fall of 1914. Herbert Hoover and the Commission for Relief in Belgium raised funds to purchase and support food to sustain Belgium and, eventually, Occupied France as well. Idealistic American volunteers (including some Rhodes Scholars) supervised food distribution in the occupation zone. Along the Western Front in Belgium, hundreds of Americans served (illegally) in the British and Canadian armies."
The book "tells the story of the German invasion, occupation and retreat from the perspective of Americans who were there," according to the Klekowskis. Over a good many years, they "have spent lengthy periods in a farmhouse in Lorraine, France, exploring the nearby villages and forests for the artifacts of war."
The Fort Devens Museum's open house May 17 offers two other programs. At 11 a.m., Alan Earls tells about "Cold War Era Defense Contractors." Then at 2 p.m. Trisha Blanchet presents information about Operation Delta Dog, the organization she founded and leads to train service dogs for local veterans who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The museum is located at 94 Jackson Road, Devens. Raffles and refreshments will be provided at this open house.