Five Questions for Jerry Michaud, Roll of Honor Foundation
"Make sure that those U.S. service men and women who served in this war are not forgotten by this and future generations."
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
One of our great partners in our effort to create the new National World War I Memorial is the Roll Of Honor Foundation. The Roll of Honor Foundation is a nonprofit charity with the mission of honoring the military service of the men and women of America’s Armed Forces, educating the public about their legacy and encouraging public service among the next generation. The Foundation provides the Roll of Honor -- an online registry of U.S. service persons -- which allows former military members and their families to display their military experience, records of achievement and photos in a digital visual biography. In partnership with the United States World War One Centennial Commission, the World War I Roll of Honor features profiles of many of the more than 4 million American service persons who responded to the call of “Over There” in support of the war-weary Allies and helped achieve victory in "The War That Changed the World." We spoke to Jerry Michaud, who created the profile platform for the Roll of Honor Foundation, to hear about their efforts regarding World War I veterans.
Tell us about the Roll of Honor Foundation and what you do to honor our nation’s veterans.
The Roll of Honor Foundation’s mission is to honor the military service of the men and women of America’s Armed Forces, educating the public about their legacy and encouraging public service among future generations.
The Foundation provides a free online registry of U.S. service men and women (www.rollofhonor.org) which allows current and former military members and their families to display their military experience, records of achievement and photos in a digital visual biography. Our ambition is to document the entire U.S. military service history – from Lexington and Concord to today’s deployments – through the individual histories of America’s military. Almost 3 million service members are currently in the Roll of Honor and new profiles are being added daily.
You recently partnered with the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission for a special edition of the Roll of Honor. What will people see when they go to the Roll of Honor?
The World War One National Memorial Roll of Honor (www.rollofhonor.org/ww1) was designed to give individual visibility to the millions of Doughboys, pilots, sailors and nurses of “the war that changed the world,” detailing their ranks, units, battles, awards, citations and other elements of their service. Through a vivid digital display, each profile page will focus on that individual’s World War One experience, making sure that everyone who took a stand for freedom – serving their country in the military, surviving extremely tough circumstances and possibly facing death – will not be unnoticed or forgotten.
On the WWI Commission’s website, visitors can use the “Find Your World War One veteran” search tool to discover their ancestor’s individual profile on the WWI Roll of Honor. If there is no profile created yet or you have additional details, photographs, letters or “Stories of Service” you want to add to an existing profile, the Roll of Honor Foundation staff will help you build or enhance the profile.
How will this special edition help the new National World War I Memorial that is being created in Washington DC?
Our intention is that the Roll of Honor will be a continuous online component of the National World War I Memorial that will allow future generations to find their veteran ancestors in years to come.
In addition, you can now make a donation in honor of your World War One veteran to help build the National World War One Memorial. By clicking on the “Place a Wreath” button on any Roll of Honor profile page and making a contribution, you can add your name to the veteran’s page below a tribute “virtual wreath” graphic on his or her web page. One hundred percent of your charitable donation goes directly to the National World War One Memorial fund. This “crowd- sourcing” element could be an important new fundraising and public support tool for the Memorial.
You have created some 350,000 World War One veteran profiles already. What have you learned from that experience?
In developing the graphics for the profile displays, we had to create 128 Army enlisted rank insignia – including horseshoer, farrier (blacksmith), chauffeur and cook – compared to today’s twelve enlisted ranks. There were units such as machine gun battalions, trench mortar batteries, sanitary trains (hospital units), gas (chemical warfare) regiments and observation balloon companies.
While there were very few awards available in the WWI era (compared to more than 300 different U.S. military decorations today), the World War One Victory Medal was awarded to any member of the U.S. military who had served from April 6, 1917 to November 11, 1918. But it was not simple for us to figure out how to display every possible variation of this medal within a database structure. The Army had 13 battle and 5 service clasps, while the Navy had 7 battle, 19 operational and 6 service clasps. Medals issued to U.S. Marines were delivered with a Maltese cross device affixed to the ribbon. There were all kinds of regulations that determined which devices applied to an individual’s service, since specific battle participation was not very well recorded.
In addition, the Silver Citation Star added to the World War I Victory Medal was authorized for any member of the U.S. Army who had been cited for gallantry. In 1932, the Silver Citation Star was renamed the Silver Star Medal and, upon application to the War Department, any holder of the Silver Citation Star could have it converted to a Silver Star Medal. Because we don’t know who had applied for a conversion, we converted them automatically on the Roll of Honor. And, even though the Purple Heart was first awarded in 1932, we followed the authorization orders and awarded a Purple Heart to anyone who had been wounded or killed in action since April 5, 1917.
What profiles stick out in your memory?
In addition to research on the actions of Medal of Honor and other valor award recipients, stories about the fearless craziness of military aviators flying in paper-and-plywood contraptions were often jaw-dropping. Famous U.S. air ace Eddie Rickenbacker (26 aerial victories, Medal of Honor, 7 Distinguished Service Cross medals) had already competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times before World War I. On November 11, 1918 at precisely 11 a.m., he flew one last time over the trenches at Verdun and later wrote: “I was the only audience for the greatest show ever presented. On both sides of no-man’s land, the trenches erupted. Brown-uniformed men poured out of the American trenches, gray-green uniforms out of the German. After four years of slaughter and hatred, they were not only hugging each other but kissing each other on both cheeks as well. I turned my ship toward the field. The war was over.”
One disturbing discovery for our research team – even though it had been known for days that the fighting would end on Armistice Day and the agreement was signed at 5:00 a.m., we noticed an alarming number of U.S. Army and Marine deaths on the morning of November 11, 1918. The 320 Americans who fell on Armistice Day lost their lives in a war that the Allies had already won. I’m sure the Commission’s historians could give some background on why those lives were wasted. But the Roll of Honor Foundation wants to make sure that those men and all the other U.S. service men and women who served in this war are not forgotten by this and future generations.