Purple Damesrocket by Don BrockmeierPurple Damesrocket by Don Brockmeier

WWII museums and wildflowers make for a memorable May journey

Writer and world traveler Angela Davis again invites Nebraska Rural Living readers along on a road trip, this time to World War II museums and wildflowers, as she connects Nebraska to points across the world.

Shell-leaf Penstemmon by Don Brockmeier
Shell-leaf Penstemmon (ranchers call it bluebells)
by Don Brockmeier

With the sun beaming down, it’s a fine May day for a leisurely drive across Belgium from the Netherlands to the coast. Stopping outside a little town called Ostende, only a stone’s throw from the beach, awaits the Atlantic Wall Museum. With the help of informative, interactive audio guides, the open air museum provides a well-preserved, expansive three-hour hike over two kilometers, retracing this historical defense site.

Huddle in trenches, walk humpbacked through tunnels, climb up and down many, many steps, and maneuver through twists, turns and tight spaces – some filled with bunkers. I found passageways, hidden spaces and several recreated dioramas displaying various German defense strategies during both World Wars.

There’s plenty of brush, beach views, grassy areas and, yes, wildflowers embedded throughout this immense tactical defense system built by the Germans to prevent penetration by the Allies. Retrace the soldiers’ steps and eavesdrop on recreated conversations. It’s a sobering experience, coming face to face with what our troops encountered in graphic format, leading to a deep abiding appreciation for our nation’s veterans, not just on Memorial Day.

Red poppies grab attention

Scarlet Globe Mallow (also called Cowboy's delight) by Don Brockmeier
Scarlet Globe Mallow (also called Cowboy’s delight)
by Don Brockmeier

I am reflective during the return drive and blooming brilliant red wildflowers attract my attention like a bee sniffing out pollen. I am surprised by their numbers every time I see them, nearly everywhere alongside the road, sprinkled throughout the vast flat lands. I suddenly understand these wildflowers are actually poppies! My husband also grows poppies, which I’ve helped to weed now and again. I’d certainly rather be admiring them from a comfortable distance than poking around amongst them.

Greenthread by Don Brockmeier
by Don Brockmeier

A little research reveals no poppies bloomed for four full years while their seeds were trampled by constant battling between forces during the Great War throughout Europe. After the war, poppies seemed to dominate, radiating their festive vibrancy throughout the land, inspiring Canadian poet John McCrae to pen his now famous poem on poppies growing in Flander’s fields in honor of our heroic allied soldiers.

The red poppy is the symbol for the American Legion Auxiliary. Veterans create millions of red crepe poppies as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation. The paper flowers are then distributed in exchange for donations to aid with the ongoing care of war veterans. What a lasting clear, visual that educates others about sacrifices veterans have made while also showing how far the garden variety poppy has come.

Bring the adventure stateside

Though my adventure took place an ocean away from Nebraska, if you’ve been bitten by the wanderlust bug, you’ll find plenty of wildflower garden and red poppy varieties right in Nebraska plus a sprinkling of war-related museums across the state. Pick your passion or double them up and follow along!

May 29 through June 9 is Wildflower Week in Nebraska. It’s a fine time too, as spring has sprung in every valley and town with a variety of activities put together by the Nebraska Statewide Arboreteum. While you’re busy sprucing your garden, reserve some time to join in the celebration of wildflower fun. Scavenger hunts, freebies, presentations, hikes, music, plant sales, educational activities and tricks and hints from planting to using wildflowers fill the calendar, offering something for everyone.

“Escape to an Urban Oasis” in Omaha boasts the Lauritzen Gardens, sprawled across four acres and offering ample flora and fauna for flower-loving folks to meander through and admire. There’s even a bird sanctuary, a sculpture garden and a children’s garden to luxuriate in and enjoy. Their web site reveals numerous programs, projects, ventures, conservation efforts and unique partnerships to be discovered in the heart of Nebraska.

Strategic Air & Space Museum Inside by Nebraska Tourism
Strategic Air & Space Museum Inside
by Nebraska Tourism

With two hangar decks housing nearly 40 aircraft and an interactive children’s exhibit, Ashland’s Strategic Air & Space Museum is a must-see.

In Hastings, Neb., you’ll find the WWII Bomb Depot, a place listed as one of Hitler’s five top military targets if he ever invaded. According to a tipster on RoadsideAmerica.com, the bomb shelters look like hills just off Second Street in the downtown area.

Ashland, Neb., hosts the Strategic Air and Space Museum with an especially large collection of bombers and preserved missiles and aircraft. Or motor to Lexington, Neb., where a museum called the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles houses an extensive collection of historical military equipment. The Fort Robinson Museum located in Fort Robinson State Park has a dog kennel from the K-9 Corps and a small amount of WWII materials.

Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles by Jennifer Chick
Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles
by Jennifer Chick

Or take a virtual trip. Platte River Valley offers a range of activities bent on increasing education and information regarding the hospitality offered by volunteers of the North Platte Canteen during WWII to more than 6 million military personnel traveling through the region. Go online to browse the Lincoln County Museum’s website!

Whew! It’s a lot to take in, wildflowers and WWII museums, but it’s certainly worth the journey as you uncover and learn more of our history while admiring nature’s beautiful wildflowers.

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