New Mexico achieved statehood just two short years before the Great War broke out in Europe in 1914. Recruitment in the nascent state was aggressive, and New Mexicans stepped up to serve in large numbers. By the end of the first World War, New Mexico ranked fifth in the nation for military service, enlisting more than 17,000 recruits from all 33 New Mexican counties. The war claimed the lives of 501 New Mexicans. The global conflict ended with the signing of the armistice Nov. 11, 1918.
On the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, the New Mexico History Museum opened a permanent exhibition entitled The First World War featuring the stories, images and letters from New Mexicans who served.
“The First World War permanent exhibition opening on Veterans Day 2018 at the New Mexico History Museum captures the essence of the hardship, fears, hopes, dreams, and heartbreak of New Mexicans who served,” said Devorah Romanek, Curator of Exhibits at the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and guest curator of the New Mexico History Museum’s The First World War exhibition. “The demographics of New Mexico’s military contingent reflected the diversity and singular history of the state.”
“For some, the call to serve led to global travel and new perspectives, but the yearning for home.” Many of those enlisted personnel had served in the Mexican Punitive Expedition, a retaliatory response to Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa’s attack on the border town of Columbus. The First World War exhibition investigates the contributions of New Mexicans to the war, through letters, photographs and objects.
“New Mexico played an important role in both world wars,” said Andrew Wulf, then-Director of the New Mexico History Museum. “We are proud to be able to recognize and remember that contribution and add The First World War as a permanent exhibition, to underscore the sacrifice and heartfelt letters home from these brave soldiers.”