Try to just imagine; over 20 million dead. Do you remember this number?. Do you know where it comes from or what it represents? The number is as real as the blood that was shed, as the lives lost. The love ones carried on. Difficult, heart wrenching, missing their love ones. You, I, and most of us have, if not forgotten, never give it any more than a casual concern. I am talking about the war to end all wars. Lofty statement and ideals, but far from reality. This was World War I, and yes, I am sure you never give a thought. No, not any longer.
But a man named Keith Colley in Oklahoma has not forgotten. He was brought to this eye-opening reality in a most unusual way. But you see Keith is a most unique and unusual man. He came to the cause of letting, not making, the country remember the sacrifices, the losses, suffered over 100 years ago. Back then almost every family was affected. In some way, it was everyone’s personal tragedy.
Keith went to Sri Lanka to work as a grief counselor after their tragedy. This was not only his training but his empathetic makeup. He simply wanted to help. So, he stayed on. He counseled, he listened and shared the grief of the individual. Later he returned home working as a bereavement counselor for Hospice. To compliment his vocation, he specialized in working with Alzheimer and Dementia patients.
Speaking with a particular WWII individual suffering from Alzheimer’s, Keith was looking for a way to make a connection with the man. This vet kept drifting back to conversations he had with his father who had served and fought in WWI. Keith had an idea. He brought to his WWII patient a shovel from WWI and placed it into his hands. The man’s eyes not only lit up but so did his attitude. He began recalling the actual, completely lost and forgotten, conversations he had with his WWI father so long ago. The veteran, all of a sudden, blurted out one of his dad’s favorites saying about the shovel. In WWI “If I wasn’t shoveling, I was shooting; if I wasn’t shooting, I was shoveling.” This is what, for many, is what WWI simply boiled down to. Keith, with one single gesture, opened up this man’s memory not only to the war but to his personal life, to his father!
Keith just got his message, Keith had his calling, Keith knew what he was destined to do. Hence, more than ten years ago, was born the idea for Awakening the Mind, the WWI Traveling Memorial. A memorial brought to one and all by contributions and private donations. And yes, sometimes that gets a bit thin.
Paul Bach, a dedicated history teacher at Potterville High School, heard of Keith and his mission. Upon the exchange of a few texts an agreement was reached. Keith would pack up his entire traveling museum, located in Oklahoma, and bring it to Potterville. This is not unusual, just sort of special. Keith normally does over 220 shows per year. But COVID basically canceled all his activities. Needing to get back on the road with his display, the contact from Paul Bach was just in time.
This traveling museum, magnificent beyond description for WWI enthusiasts, will be arriving in Potterville, at their high school and will be available for viewing on April 18 & 19. There you will discover, maybe rediscover, items and memorabilia from that horrid, modern war over 100 years ago.
It was said over 27,000 miles of trenches were dug during the war. Every foot of these trenches was filled with someone’s stories, someone’s agonies, and death – which, as it was once proclaimed, would never happen again. Come, have your own Awakening, so just maybe it won’t.