Looking for something to do on Veteran's Day?
May we suggest a trip to the National Air and Space Museum. On the Mall, the museum's exhibition Legend, Memory, and the Great War in the Air, is a great place to discover your inner-war veteran.
At the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, check out one of the oldest surviving reconnaissance and bomber aircraft in the world, the 1916 French Caudron G.4. Nearby the Caudron, you can see a Nieuport 28 fighter (above). The Nieuport was America’s first fighter plane. This type was flown by the original American squadrons first deployed to France in the spring of 1918 after the United States entered the war. It was also in a Nieuport 28 that the first aerial combat victory scored by an American was achieved on April 14, 1918.
According to the museum's Peter L. Jakab, associate director for collections and curatorial affairs, "historians often assess the importance of aviation to the outcome of the First World War as minimal." But he added this caveat:
While this may be true in terms of the result on the battlefield between 1914 and 1918, World War I aviation had a significant impact on the future military aviation, especially during the Second World War. It was during World War I that all the principal missions and tactics that were employed during World War II were conceived and developed. When World War I began, there were two kinds of airplanes—those that flew and those that didn’t. But during the war, specific aircraft types and mission roles were developed. Separate designs for fighter planes, observation aircraft, bombers, and ground attack airplanes evolved. Similarly, tactics and strategies for each of these mission-specific designs were created. All the missions and tactics used by military aircraft in the Second World War, in which aviation did have an important affect on the outcome, were developed in World War I. That was the great importance of aviation in World War I. It laid the basic foundation of military aviation for the 20th century.
Or...if you are stuck at work or feel like taking it easy, read about the last living American doughboy, featured in last month's issue of Smithsonian.
(Photograph courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum)