November 11, 2018 to December 31, 2019 - A WW1 Armistice Centennial Exhibit at the San Francisco War Memorial Veterans Building 2018-2019
100 Years of Disruption: The Great War Revealed in San Francisco
by Dana Lombardy, Executive Director of the World War One Historical Association
and publisher of World War One Illustrated
Americans today know it as World War One. 100 years ago Great Britain named it the Great War. It began as a conflict between Europe’s major powers. Eventually it embroiled more than 30 nations from around the world, including the United States.
The U.S. came out of that war as the world’s greatest industrial and economic power. That power enabled America to help win World War Two. The United States became the world’s only super power after it survived the Cold War rivalry with the now defunct Soviet Union. Today’s War on Terrorism is a consequence of and continuing effect of the Great War that ended in 1918.
America’s story and San Francisco’s role in the Great War inspired a unique display that opened over Memorial Day weekend in 2018. Eight 8-foot square banners were installed in the War Memorial Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, across the street from San Francisco City Hall. An additional exhibit with uniforms, weapons, videos, and dozens of artifacts were unveiled in the Veterans Gallery on November 11 of 2018, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Great War.
The War Memorial Veterans Building and War Memorial Opera House opened in 1932 to honor and remember the veterans who served in the Navy and American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) from 1917-1918.
The United States World War I Centennial Commission chose San Francisco’s War Memorial Veterans Building as one of its 100 Cities / 100 Memorials matching grant. The award helps to preserve monuments with the designation as a World War I Centennial Memorial.
GREAT WAR BANNERS DESCRIBED
The eight large banners tell the story of America’s initial desire to stay out of a foreign war in 1914. The banners document the growing sympathy for civilian victims and refugees and horror at the unprecedented numbers of casualties. In 1917 the United States joined as a co-belligerent in that war.
It was the first war that witnessed the widespread use of submarines, airships and airplanes, huge artillery cannon, machine-guns, and poison gas. It also saw the introduction of a new armored vehicle called the tank. The lethality of these weapons drove armies underground. Soldiers lived for years in systems of trenches. They were separated from their enemy by a desolate “No Man’s Land” of shell holes and barbed wire.
A massive fund raising effort using Liberty bonds helped to finance the war.
Prosecuting the war required millions of American women to work on farms, in factories, and in many previously traditional male jobs. These women replaced the more than four million American men who were drafted or volunteered for the U.S. Army and Navy. Hundreds of women went “over there” (France). Millions of women supported the home front. Their service provided key political leverage to get Congress to pass the 19th Amendment in 1919. That amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified in 1920.
The research, text, images, and design for the banners were compiled by Ken Maley, Janice Tong, and Dana Lombardy and produced by graphic artist Dan Zillion.
The eight banners tell this story using period posters, archival photos, newspapers and other images. The last banner details how San Francisco veteran Charles Kendrick led the effort to fund and build the War Memorial buildings. These banners’ content can be viewed online here: https://alwmcsf.org/ww1/1914-war-begins-in-europe/
VETERANS GALLERY EXHIBIT
On November 11, 2018 the Veterans Gallery augmented the banners with an exhibit titled
The Great War / World War I — The American Experience 1918-2018
The heart of the exhibit focuses on the men and women who lived through this important and amazing period of history. In every display individuals are spotlighted: soldiers, sailors, airmen, Red Cross workers, etc.
Twelve tall cabinets along two walls present a number of billboards with depictions of posters, newspapers, photographs, etc. Each billboard has a theme:
America enters the war. Two million men volunteered, supported by a patriotic home front.
Training. The Army expanded rapidly, but was rushed into combat.
Food will win the war. Volunteer rationing plus massive agriculture output enabled America to feed its overseas soldiers, its people at home, and its allies.
Learning on the job. American “doughboys” faced a new kind of warfare. Mistakes caused many casualties. After several months they became skilled soldiers.
We are all Americans. Despite racism and prejudice, thousands of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and others volunteered.
The unknown soldiers: African Americans. Despite “Jim Crow” discrimination and violence against them, nearly 400,000 African Americans served. When permitted to fight, they proved to be fierce warriors for a country that often did not appreciate them.
Women support the war. The U.S. Navy was the first service to enlist women. Nurses, ambulance drivers, and other support services “over there” (France) put women at risk. That service and sacrifice helped earn women the right to vote.
The amazing American Red Cross. Millions of women volunteered as nurses or humanitarian workers in more than 25 countries. 400 lost their lives from 1914-1921.
Animals also served. Truly forgotten are the horses, mules, dogs, and pigeons that performed vital roles during the war.
An Armistice ends the war. America helped turn the tide for the Allies. But German propaganda claimed its soldiers were “stabbed in the back” by its politicians. In 20 years another world war began.
A hero’s welcome home. Thousands of doughboys suffered grievous facial wounds and lost limbs. Thousands more suffered from “shell shock” – what today is known as PTSD.
Veterans organize and are memorialized. The American Legion was founded in 1919. San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building are two of the monuments erected to honor and remember their service.
In addition to the above presentation, the exhibit includes videos playing on two separate large monitors. One video is a 10-minute slide show called “Why is World War One Important?” It explains how the war disrupted warfare, politics, economies, and social institutions. It also describes why the war is still important, still relevant today.
The second 4-minute video is part of a longer production created for the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. It features the Marine Corps’ first major battle at Belleau Wood in 1918.
Scale models of aeroplanes are shown in an action diorama of an aerial “dogfight” that was constructed for the exhibit. There are also displays of uniforms, weapons, and equipment.
Civilian artifacts, song sheets, and more describe America’s home front during the war.
A display of trench art shows examples of artillery shell casings that were turned into works of art by soldiers.
The legacy of the war is also represented through post-war toys and collectibles.
The Gallery exhibit covers a huge range of relics and topics in just one room. The artifacts, research, text, images and displays were produced by Ken Maley, Janice Tong, Fred Rutledge, Paul Cox, Dana Lombardy, and graphic artist Dan Zillion.
THE WORLD WAR ONE ARMISTICE CENTENNIAL COMMEMORATION COMMITTEE
In late 2017, Ken Maley approached the Trustees of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Foundation about the idea for a World War One Armistice Centennial Commemoration. The Foundation administrates the War Memorial Opera House (where the San Francisco ballet also performs), Davies Symphony Hall, and the Herbst Theatre.
Maley served on Mayor Newsom’s 1906 Centennial Committee in 2006. He had also served on committees for other important San Francisco anniversary events.
Maley became the Commemoration Project Director. Trustee Major General J. Michael Myatt, USMC (Ret.) agreed to chair the committee. Judge Quentin L. Kopp (Ret.), President of the Korean War Memorial Foundation, became co-chair.
Other Bay area community leaders joined the committee, including:
LTCOL Wallace I. Levin, California National Guard Reserve (Ret.), a U.S. Army Korean War veteran
COL Fred Rutledge, Director of Museum Operations for the California State Military Reserve
USMC veteran Edgar Flowers, a Director on the Board of the SF Fleet Week Association
USMC veteran Paul Cox, Chair of the American Legion War Memorial Commission
Janice Tong, Special Assistant to the Chair of the American Legion War Memorial Commission
Nelson Lum, Commander, American Legion Cathay Post 384
US Army veteran Sal Compagno, President, World War One Historical Association – an educational non-profit organization
Dana Lombardy, Executive Director, World War One Historical Association – became Project Historical Consultant
Graphic artist Dan Zillion produced the eight banners and the printed displays in the Veterans Gallery and lobby of the War Memorial Veterans Building.
In early 2019 the committee was renamed the Veterans Commemoration Committee. Future plans include projects to remember and honor the veterans of the Korean War, World War Two, Vietnam, etc.
VISITING THE BANNERS AND EXHIBIT
The eight banners are now on permanent display on the second floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building. They can be viewed when the building is open from 8 am to 10 pm Monday-Sunday.
All eight banners can be viewed on the American Legion website: https://alwmcsf.org/ww1/
The Great War / World War One exhibit in the Veterans Gallery is open to the public and admission is free. The days and hours posted can be found online here:
https://alwmcsf.org/gallery/ww1_exhibit2/ The exhibit runs until 31 December 2019.
In early September parts of the exhibit will be removed to make room for a large display that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the American Legion.
A video augmented tour of the exhibit is in production. It should be viewable on the World War One Historical Association YouTube channel later this fall. The exhibit can therefore be “visited” even after it closes at the end of 2019.
A COLLECTIBLE TO REMEMBER THE SAN FRANCISCO EXHIBIT AND HELP CONSTRUCT THE NEW NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MEMORIAL IN WASHINGTON, DC
A set of eight commemorative cachets was produced by the committee and released on October 2, 2018 during San Francisco Fleet Week. These cachets are collectible envelopes featuring the “Turning the Tide” Forever™ postage stamp issued in 2018 by the U.S. Postal Service to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice.
The cachet team included committee chair and Fleet Week chairman General Myatt, Ed Flowers, a Director of San Francisco Fleet Week and a member of the San Francisco Marines' Memorial Club, Dana Lombardy, and graphic artist Dan Zillion.
Flowers is a stamp aficionado who designed the Buffalo Soldiers cachet (among others) and worked with General Myatt on the 2005 release of the four Distinguished Marine postage stamps on the occasion of the 230th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.
These eight “Turning the Tide” cachets feature historical Great War illustrations of the U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Service (that eventually became the Air Force), African Americans, Women, Animals, and Charles Kendrick and the San Francisco War Memorial buildings.
Proceeds from the sales of the cachets support the Veterans Commemoration Committee and National World War I Memorial. The cachets can be ordered online here: