Illuminating the San Francisco and San Jose WW1 Centennial Commemoration Groups & Recalling Their Work
An Interview by Bill Betten of Dr. Jonathan Roth and Dana Lombardy
By Bill Betten, Co-Director of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force
Though I am a member of the World War One Historical Association which has its operating offices out of Albany, CA just across the San Francisco Bay, I must admit I live down in Southern California. Though I have had the occasion to visit the Bay Area during the Centennial, I am sometimes confused at all the associations and teams working there that have made the Centennial a success there. For example, the Bay Area Chapter of the World War One Historical Association alone is very active and holds monthly meetings hosting fascinating guest speakers on a wide variety of WW1 topics.
Over the last four years, I have heard of no less than four active organizations commemorating the centennial in the Bay Area, and some folks play multiple roles in several.
To clarify for readers and myself just who did what, I here ask Mr. Dana Lombardy, Executive Director of the World War One Historical Association and publisher of World War One Illustrated, and Dr. Jonathan Roth, Professor of History at San Jose State University, Director of the Burdick Military History Museum, and fellow Co-Director of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force, to clear up any confusion.
Task Force Co-Director Bill Betten: Dr. Roth, how did the San Francisco Veterans Commemoration Committee come to be? Was it specifically formed to deal with the WW1 Centennial commemorations?
Task Force Co-Director Dr. Jonathan Roth: The committee came out of the American Legion wanting to put up a display in the foyer of the Veterans Building/War Memorial (San Francisco.) When I came aboard General Michael Myatt and Ed Flowers, from the Marine Memorial, were already involved. One of the main concerns that brought people together was to try to bring the War Memorial Building, and Trustees, back to the original purpose of honoring veterans and World War One.
Bill: Of course, I am familiar with some of the folks on the board who are also fellow members of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force like yourselves, Gen. Myatt USMC (Ret.), Sal Compagno, President of the WW1 Historical Association, Col Fred Rutledge USA (Ret.) Museum Director of the California State Military Museums, but I am unfamiliar with some of the others. Can you help?
Dr. Roth: Certainly. The ones you did not mention were Mr. Ken Maley: Ken is a consultant who designs museum displays. Judge Quentin Kopp: Judge Kopp's father was a WW1 veteran, He himself is the head of the Korean War Veterans Association. Mr. Paul Cox: Paul is a Vietnam Vet and very involved in Veterans groups. He was the chair of the American Legion Commission. Mr. Ed Flowers: Ed is Marine veteran who works with General Myatt at the Marine Memorial. He had a lot of material on World War One, including on the 159th Infantry, San Francisco’s Own. Mr. Wallace Levin is a Korean War veteran who works on the Veterans Day Parade and very involved in San Francisco Veteran Affairs. Mr. Nelson Lum works for the American Legion as does Ms. Janice Tong.
WW1HA Executive Director Dana Lombardy : Specifically, Janice is Special Assistant to Mr. Cox, Chair of the American Legion War Memorial Commission, and Nelson Lum, is Commander of American Legion Cathay Post 384. Likewise, Sal Compagno is also a US Army veteran, and Edgar Flowers and Paul Cox are both US Marine Corp veterans.
Bill: What other projects have this committee been involved with during the Centennial that deserves mention.
Dr. Roth: The committee organized the November 11th commemoration at the Veterans Building/War Memorial. This was a big deal, with many embassies and city officials there. They also organized placing a new attractive sign at Heroes Grove in Golden Gate Park on Memorial Day. The committee instituted a Crowd Funding Project for the sale of WW 1 Stamp cachets. Another important project was the Veterans War Memorial Building banners for the WW 1 display. The committee also helped to plan the reconstruction of the Veterans Gallery, and continues this work.
Dana: Incidentally, it was Graphic artist Dan Zillion who produced the eight banners and the printed displays on display in the Veterans Gallery and lobby of the War Memorial Veterans Building.
Bill: Which brings me to that. Separate from the Veterans Commemoration Committee is the American Legion War Memorial Commission. Who are individuals on the American Legion War Memorial Commission?
Dr. Roth: I’ll defer that question to Dana.
Dana: Some of your confusion Bill, may have come from a recent renaming of the WW1 Armistice Centennial Commemoration Committee. In 2019, the committee was renamed the Veterans Commemoration Committee to be more inclusive, with future plans to include projects to remember and honor the veterans of the Korean War, World War Two, Vietnam, etc.
The committee’s origin was in late 2017, when 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. With his prior experience serving on other centennial committees and anniversary events, Ken became the Commemoration Project Director. San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Foundation Trustee Major General J. Michael Myatt, USMC (Ret.) agreed to chair the committee while Judge Quentin L. Kopp (Ret.), became co-chair. Other Bay area community leaders joined the committee, including Lieutenant Colonel Wallace I. Levin, California National Guard Reserve (Ret.), along with the aforementioned
Colonel Fred Rutledge, of the California State Military Reserve, Edgar Flowers, of the San Francisco Fleet Week Association, Paul Cox, Janice Tong, Nelson Lum, Sal Compagno, and myself.
Bill: Well yes, I do think you are right. With so many names being the same on both lists. I’m glad to clear this up. The US WW1 Centennial Commission is also going through some similar name adjustments now that the WW1 Centennial is over.
So, Dr. Roth, I understand that you were instrumental in a WW1 centennial commemoration committee specifically operating out at San Jose State University. Is there a list of individuals who made up the San Jose State University Centennial Commemoration Committee? Who are they?
Dr. Roth: Yes, as you know my connection with the Burdick Military Museum Project naturally fosters an interest in commemorating the centennial of the war. From that interest sprang the SJSU Centennial Commemoration Committee. Members include SJSU professors, librarians, and historians. Frances Edwards, is a Lecturer in the English Department. Allison Mckee is a Professor in the Radio/Television/Film Department. Nyle Monday is a Librarian at Martin Luther King, Jr. Library here on campus. Victor Backer is a Public Relations Consultant, and Brenda Wong of the San Jose Chinese Historical and Cultural Project. Professors in their respective departments are Karen English, English Department, Karthika Sasikumar, Political Science Department, Steven Milner, African-American Studies, Scot Guenter, Humanities, and of course Jonathan Roth, History Department.
Bill: What are the commemorations the university committee has been involved with?
Dr. Roth: The committee organized a month-long World War One Exhibit at the Second Floor Art Gallery of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, November 2018. We also organized a memorial bell-ringing of the 1881 San Jose Normal School Bell, which once was in Tower Hall, and rang during the original Armistice Day in 1918. The committee also organized a symposium in the SJSU Engineering Auditorium on World War One on April 15, 2018 where Dr. English spoke on World War One Poetry. Dr. Kimberly Shafer of Academy of Arts University, San Francisco spoke on Otto Dix, and we showed the Charlie Chaplin Film, Shoulder Arms. During that evening the committee had also organized a unique musical event in the Concert Hall of the Music Building. From Ragtime to Jazz: Music of James Reese Europe was presented by CW2 James Lamb and the California State Military Reserve Band.
Bill: Yes, we posted a special article on that on the California WW1 Centennial Task Force website.
Dr. Roth: I forgot to mention Dr. Karen English’s poetry reading night. “A Tribute to American Poetry of the Great War". Brenda Hee Wong wanted me to express how she especially appreciated the enthusiasm of Darrell Browne, husband of Laura Lau Kee, who participated as a reader.
By the way, all of these events were free and open to the public.
Bill: It sounds like the San Francisco and San Jose areas were well involved in the spirit of commemorating the Centennial of World War One.