WWI Trench Excavation at Camp Dodge

May 29, 2014

Many WWI soldiers prepared for deployment  at Iowa's Camp Dodge, just north of Des Moines.  This week archeologists are excavating long-forgotten training trenches at Camp Dodge to better understand trench warfare.

Archeologist Adam Meseke says these trenches were designed and built like those on the Western Front. "Trench warfare would have been an absolute nightmare for everyone involved. Being several yards away from the enemy, or constant ammunition fire, gas attacks..."

Today an untrained eye could not discern the former training complex.  Verdant plants and tall trees blanket the ground.

In fact the Iowa National Guard, which is headquartered at Camp Dodge, didn't know the exact location of the complex. 

In 2008 satellite imaging showed an anomaly in the heavily forested landscape.  These images lead investigators to the trenches' location.

Camp Dodge is one of only three excavated WWI trench complexes in the U.S.  After the war, many training areas were filled in.

Curator of the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum Mike Vogt says a lot can be learned from the site.

"What archeology contributes to history is that it puts a place on the map...It’s a snap shot into the state of the art of warfare, as of 1917 when the United States entered the war."

So far excavators have found an assortment of bullets, grenades and barbed wire. The objects found will become part of the National Gold Star Military Museum’s permanent collection.

Because the trenches are located within a floodplain, there is interest for a more extensive excavation before water further degrades the site.