To get in spirit of Veterans Day, take your family to the First Division museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton for a day so fun the kids won’t realize they’re jumping into a history lesson.
The museum sits on the lush grounds of the park and showcases real tanks outside, great for climbing and rousing games of make-believe. Inside the museum, take a walking tour of military history, filled with fun facts and realistic exhibits, including Normandy Beach after D-Day and a World War I trench. Although some relics are hands-off, kids can brush their hands along the rock wall in the trench and experience the quiet intrigue of a Vietnam jungle.
Steve Hawkins, director of information management at the museum, recommends viewing the real World War II Sherman tank, so large that the museum built around it. Other standout features include a prison door from Nuremberg, a phone in the trench that gives a WWI news report and Medals of Honor from American heroes.
Cantigny spares nothing when decorating each exhibit, from the ground visitors walk upon to the floor-to-ceiling murals and lifelike scenes. Hawkins advises visitors in wheelchairs or with strollers to avoid high-traffic times like weekends to make it easier to get around the museum at your own pace.
Events taking place this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, will help kids connect with American soldiers past and present.
"We will have a table for children and adults to color and write letters to soldiers currently deployed and to veterans," says Melissa Neumann, museum educator. Kids can also learn how to properly fold flags that will be given to active duty soldiers.
Other fall events include History Alive: Desert Storm on Aug. 28, where kids can dress up in gear like the soldiers used to wear; a swearing-in ceremony for America’s newest citizens on Sept. 15 that is open to the public and features performances by the Navy band; and the 11th Annual Civil War Symposium on Oct. 18, with living history re-enactors on site.