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World War I Centennial News



5e6bff5755d70.image Roanoke’s Red Cross volunteers, shown here campaigning to sell Liberty Bonds for the World War I effort, tended to people stricken with the flu during the 1918 pandemic. (Courtesy of Virginia Room, Roanoke Main Library )

Roanoke fought a war against a flu pandemic in 1918

By Ralph Berrier Jr.
via the Roanoke Times (VA) newspaper

During the afternoon of Sept. 23, 1918, Wiley W. Eastwood left work early, complaining of chills and a fever, and went to his bed in his Highland Avenue home.

Friends visited him the next morning, when news of his grave condition made rounds of the neighborhood. By noon, Eastwood was dead — the first Roanoke resident to die of influenza during the infamous “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918.

Over the next month, more than 4,000 Roanokers were struck with the flu, as sickness swept up citizens from all walks of life: orphans, railroad workers, soldiers, millhands, health care workers, college students and scores more.

Some 85 people died in 31 days, according to Roanoke historian Nelson Harris, who wrote about the 1918 flu pandemic in his book “Hidden History of Roanoke.”

Perhaps 50 million people died worldwide during the flu outbreak in 1918-19, a number that included 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 12,000 Virginians died of the flu, 10 times more than died on the battlefields during World War I.

Roanoke had experience fighting disease pandemics in its early boomtown years. The stagnant, unsanitary downtown, where disgusting rivulets of animal and human waste flowed in the open down muddy streets, served as a giant Petri dish for germs and disease. 

Read more: Roanoke fought a war against a flu pandemic in 1918


0304 pitThe remains of a World War I chemical weapons testing and disposal site — known as the American University Experiment Station — were discovered in 1993 in the Spring Valley section of Northwest D.C. 

WWI munitions cleanup in Northwest DC nears completion

By Neal Augenstein
via the WTOP radio station (DC) web site

The peaceful serenity of the neighborhood surrounding the stately home at 4825 Glenbrook Road, in the Spring Valley section of Northwest D.C., was matched by the potential danger and uncertainty of chemical agents buried beneath it.

Almost eight years since heavy machinery knocked down the first bricks of the home that had been built atop a World War I chemical weapons testing and disposal site — known as the American University Experiment Station — the painstaking cleanup of what’s been called the “mother of all toxic dumps” is entering its final stages.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Christopher Gardner told WTOP that only two small areas remain to be excavated on the property, after tons of contaminated soil and broken glassware with traces of potentially dangerous chemicals have been removed.

“At this point, we’re down to saprolite,” Gardner said. “For all intents and purposes, we’re scraping rock.”

The Spring Valley project began in 1993, when a contractor unearthed buried military ordnance on nearby 52nd Court Northwest. Digging and research indicated the likely presence of mustard gas and lewisite — an arsenic-containing blister agent — under the former home.

In March 2012, after testing of the property between 2007 and 2010, the decision was made to remove the home.

Read more: WWI munitions cleanup in Northwest DC nears completion


1995.2.7 1024x789Female yeoman in Navy uniform stands next to a sorting rack in State, War and Navy Building. 

This International Women’s Day, We Celebrate Women’s Roles in World War I 

By Doran Cart
via the Ms. magazine web site

“We had air raids night after night. When we were not operating at night, we spent the time from darkness to dawn in a cellar twenty feet underground,” Navy nurse Mary Elderkins wrote of working close to the lines.

Thousands of American women served in all duties overseas during World War I, except combat—although some were killed by shells and bombs.

They were doctors, hospital administrators, ambulance and truck drivers, telephone operators, nurses, dietitians, physical therapists, reconstruction aides, entertainers, canteen workers, office workers, fundraisers and many other occupations.

For many women, it was a chance to work at tasks unavailable to them in the regular circumstances of society.

The most lasting effect of WWI on American women was the loss of loved ones: of husbands, sons, daughters and siblings. Battlefield deaths and cataclysmic diseases took a terrible toll which the society would struggle to recover from.

For others who put on uniforms in a military capacity or as volunteers, to go back to pre-war life proved a difficult transition. Many who served in defense of the country could not continue to defend it without the voice of the vote, and they became leaders in the passage of the 19th Amendment. Others went back to civilian life, some perhaps welcoming it and others chafed by it.

Read more: This International Women’s Day, We Celebrate Women’s Roles in World War I


At close grips3The physical position of generals in battle has changed to reflect both changing technology and changing attitudes about leadership in war.

Death of a General: Edward Sigerfoos & Leaders in War 

By George Schwartz
via the War Room (U.S. Army War College) web site

Stars, I have seen them fall,
but when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.

-- A.E. Housman, Untitled, More Poems

Only in command of a brigade for an hour, Edward Sigerfoos was wounded by enemy artillery and died 10 days later, apparently not knowing that he had been promoted to Brigadier General. Slightly more than a month after his death, the armistice would end the fighting and his death would become a footnote in the history of the World War I. In a war in which many general officers were derisively considered to be chateau generals, Sigerfoos was the only American general officer killed as a result of enemy action.

World War I was one of history’s most lethal conflicts: over eight million military deaths, and perhaps ten million more civilians. Sigerfoos was just one casualty among so many millions. Yet such statistics can be overwhelming, obscuring how each one of the dead had a name and a story. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, it is worth considering the story of Edward Sigerfoos’s service and sacrifice.

More significantly, however, the centennial of Sigerfoos’s death also provides an occasion to consider the place of general officers on the modern battlefield, and the consequences of fighting in an environment in which leaders in battle may be no safer than front-line troops. To a Doughboy from the Western Front, the headquarters of the brigade and division commanders today may bear a strong resemblance to the chateaus on a century ago.

Yet war is changing. With pervasive sensors and the proliferation of long-range, precision strike weapons, modern commanders may once again find themselves vulnerable. This raises important questions: Is it necessary for Generals to be on the modern battlefield? Is it worth the risk?

A Soldier-Scholar

An Ohio native, Sigerfoos attended the Ohio State University where he demonstrated exceptional potential in what is now the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Consequently, upon graduation in 1891, he received a rare Regular Army commission and became an Infantry officer. He gained tremendous operational experience over the following decades: operating as a logistician for General Leonard Wood in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, leading counter-guerilla operations in the Philippines, and serving with the Pancho Villa Expedition. When America entered the First World War, he was in China with the 15th Infantry, but was recalled to the U.S. to join the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

Even though Sigerfoos spent a significant amount of time “in the line,” he was also something of a soldier-scholar. He was an honor graduate of the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth class of 1895. Ten years later, during his four-year tenure as the commandant of cadets and professor of military science at the University of Minnesota, he would earn two degrees in law. Finally, in 1915, he graduated highest in his class from the U.S. Army War College, and because of his academic prowess, earned an invitation to stay as faculty. His student project paper and two works as an instructor – all three about the Civil War – are in the library in Ridgeway Hall.

Read more: Death of a General: Edward Sigerfoos & Leaders in War


5d9667e2652e2.imageThe Doughboy statue in Martinsburg, WV will be refurbished and moved to another location. 

Citizens petition to place Doughboy statue in town square

By Breanna Francis
via the Journal newspaper (Martinsburg, WV) web site

MARTINSBURG, WV — Citizens of Berkeley County presented the Martinsburg City Council with a roughly 200-signature petition requesting the World War I Doughboy statue be placed in the town square after its refurbishment instead of in War Memorial Park, where it is set to be placed.

Gena Long, city recorder for the City of Martinsburg, confirmed the city received the citizen-generated petition and entered it into the minutes for the emergency meeting held Tuesday evening, requesting the city keep the statue in downtown despite the statue being owned by Berkeley County.

Marvin Orndoff, the contact for the petition, said it was something he believes in but adamantly declined further comment.

In a post to his Facebook page, Delegate Larry Kump, R- Berkeley/Morgan, said he agreed, “that the state should be moved to the Martinsburg town square.”

As previously reported, Councilperson Elaine Mauck brought the issue of the World War I Doughboy statue before the council last year, sharing that the old courthouse, where the statue currently resides, will be going up for sale or auction, and in doing so, the statue could have potentially gone with the property.

Mauck said the Smithsonian did confirm the Berkeley County Council is the owner and administrator of the statue and has the right to move and refurbish the statue.

Read more: Citizens petition to place Doughboy statue in town square


5d98f2bdf2159.imageThe World War I Doughboy monument in Martinsburg, WV is seen in November 2015.

Petition asks for World War I monument to be placed in Martinsburg, WV town square

By Matthew Umstead
Via the Herald-Mail newspaper (WV) web site

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — More than 200 people have signed a petition objecting to a plan to relocate the World War I Doughboy monument to War Memorial Park in Martinsburg, and are instead asking that it be placed in the city's town square.

Six pages listing about 215 signatures were received on March 11 by Martinsburg City Recorder Gena Long's office, according to the city.

Berkeley County plans to move the monument from its current location at 300 W. King St. on the historic Martinsburg post office/federal building property to the park off North Tennessee Avenue.

A U.S. General Services Administration official said March 9 that officials expect to advertise the federal building for public sale in the coming weeks. The agency also indicated that the federal government does not own the monument.

While Army veteran and Martinsburg resident Marvin Orndorff said Tuesday that he helped collect petition signatures since late last year, he added that the monument could possibly remain at the current location if the government would agree to deed the plot of land where the Doughboy sits to the city or county government.

The monument was placed at the current location in the 1920s after city officials refused to allow the statute to be placed at town square, according to historical accounts.

Read more: Petition asks for WWI monument to be placed in Martinsburg, WV square



Why Don't We Celebrate the Doughboys as the 'Greatest Generation'? 

By Michael Peck
via The National Interest web site

March 1, 2020 -- Why does the First World War get no respect in America?

After all, it’s been seventy-five years since World War II, and we still praise the “Greatest Generation.” But over 100 years after America’s declaration of war on Germany on April 6, 1917, our nation’s participation in World War I is seldom remembered except for a few old statues on town squares.

Perhaps this has to do with time. Many Americans alive today have parents or grandparents who fought in World War II, and as of 2016, there were still 620,000 of these veterans among us. The last American veteran of World War I passed away in 2011 at age 110, but most (including my grandfather) had long since departed by then.

Or, maybe it has to with with why the war was fought. In the First World War, Johnny went marching off to fight the “evil” Kaiser Wilhelm, and returned home to parades and adulation. But then the doubts set in. Had Germany really posed a threat to the United States, or had innocent America been manipulated by greedy arms manufacturers and British propaganda? Some fifty-three thousand Americans had been killed in action, but were they heroes or just victims, pawns in yet another intra-European conflict?

And then there was the general revulsion aroused by the First World War itself. World War II is remembered as a war of motion, of glorious thrusts by tanks and aircraft and ships. The symbol World War II is blitzkrieg: the symbol of World War I is trench warfare, of dutiful sheep sacrificed on the altar of the machine gun and the barbed wire fence.

Given enough time, the “Great War” might have gone down in history as the “Greatest War.” But just twenty-one years after the armistice was signed in November 1918, the world was again engulfed by global war. And what a war the sequel was! No cartoony Kaiser Bill with spiked helmet and giant mustache. Now there were real villains—real monsters—to battle: Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo. America wasn’t being duped into intervening in a squabble between rival European empires. Now there were real causes to fight for: democracy versus fascism, good versus evil, barbarism versus civilization. Surely the men and women who fought in such a conflict must have been the Greatest Generation?

Yet far from diminishing those who fought in World War I, it only enhances their courage and commitment.

Read more: Why Don't We Celebrate the Doughboys As the 'Greatest Generation'?


Site camera 03242020Construction work at the site of the new National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC is continuing, with appropriate accommodations to health and safety during the period of COVID-19 management. The photo above is from the live camera view of the site. Click here to view the live camera feed, or watch a time-lapse video of construction progress to date.

National World War I Memorial construction should give us pride

By Tom Rogan
via the Washington Examiner newspaper (DC) web site

The coronavirus has shut down much of the nation, but construction at the National World War I Memorial rumbles on.

WWI Centennial Commission Executive Director Daniel Dayton told the Washington Examiner that "all is progressing normally. There are no delays of any kind. Our construction company, Grunley, has instituted some additional health/safety procedures, including a facility for hand-washing and additional sanitation procedures. There is currently no COVID-19 impact to the project."

As far as it comports with public health needs, this is good news. It means the memorial should be completed in time for its inauguration on Veterans Day in November.

But the memorial is special for its design as well as its mission.

Located just next to the White House at Pershing Park, the memorial is designed by Joseph Weishaar with support from sculptor Sabin Howard. Its title: The Weight of Sacrifice.

Just 25 years old when he was selected as the design winner in January 2016, Weishaar's passion is clear. Thanks to the World War I Centennial Commission's equally passionate public relations director, Chris Isleib, I was fortunate enough to visit the under-construction memorial and talk with Weishaar. His vision is well-defined. Reflecting his own young age, Weishaar's memorial design matches modern technology to tradition. The hope is that children, the elderly, and everyone in between will find equal value in this history. I came away convinced that he's nailed it.

This matters.

Read more: National World War I Memorial construction should give us pride


Foundations & Legacy: General John J. Pershing 

By LTC Kevin M. Upton, USA (Ret)
Reproduced with permission from The Officer Review® magazine, Military Order of the World Wars

To the fresh-faced and somewhat naive cadets at the University of Nebraska, he was “The Loot.” Some 25 years later, he was “The General” to battle-hardened officers of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) at the end of World War I. His vision, initiative, talents and example provided the inspiration behind two time-honored organizations—the Pershing Rifles Group (PRG) and the Military Order of the World Wars (MOWW)—that, respectively, now celebrate their 125th and 100th anniversaries.

Pershing 1John J. Pershing (center) appears with his staff in 1892 at the University of Nebraska. Source: Lincoln JournalIf the fact that these two organizations inspired by the same man are simultaneously celebrating signature anniversaries is not noteworthy enough, the qualities of Pershing’s personality that imparted vision and inspiration to two very disparate groups some 25 years apart is compelling in and of itself. Indeed, hints of World War I’s General Pershing can be seen in 19th century’s Second Lieutenant Pershing.

As a young lieutenant, Pershing inspired the Nebraska cadets to evolve an elite drill unit into what became later known as the Pershing Rifles. Twenty-five years later, the now General Pershing provided the inspiration that led his AEF officers to establish The Military Order of the World War (MOW W) in 1919.

Notably, Pershing showed a knack for making something out of almost nothing. The cadet unit he inherited at Nebraska in 1891 was little more than a rag-tag group of mostly farm boys who endured military drill only because it was mandated for students attending land grant colleges.

On a far grander scale a quarter-century later, Pershing would grow an Army of barely 300,000 (including National Guard) into a force of some two million men while also finding ways to feed and clothe it, train it, and transport it before he could even think of fighting it—which he also did to great success.

Pershing 2[May 20, 1919] General John J. Pershing inspecting troops of the 89th Division at Trier, Germany.Motivation among the Nebraska cadets was lacking. There were no standard uniforms, very little equipment and no provisions for earning an officer’s commission. That wouldn’t come until the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) was established in 1920. Much the same could be said about the nascent American Expeditionary Force.

However, in 1891 in Lincoln, NE, the newly-assigned lieutenant looked resplendent in his immaculately cared-for uniform. He walked ramrod straight, spoke clearly and directly, and barked his drill commands with precision. He led by example.

These qualities turned some heretofore indifferent heads. The lieutenant gradually got his cadets’ attention. They named him “The Loot.”

Read more: Foundations & Legacy: General John J. Pershing


An Alabama teen became America’s first WWI hero

By Kelly Kazek
via the (Alabama) web site

Homer Givens was 19 years old when he received the title of “America’s first World War I hero,” as well as one of France’s highest honors, the Croix de Guerre. Givens, born in Florence, Ala., also received a Purple Heart and is now honored on the Walk of Honor at Florence’s River Heritage Park.

Givens enlisted in the military just after graduating from Coffee High School in 1916, not long before the U.S. entered the war. According to the Florence-Lauderdale Public Digital Archive: “Homer enlisted in the US Army, sailing for France in June of 1917 as part of the First Infantry Division, ‘the Big Red One,’ led by Gen. John J. Pershing.”

Homer Givens 400Homer Givens of Florence, Ala., was called America’s first World War I hero. (Photo from Library of Congress)The unassuming, bespectacled young man made an unlikely hero but his actions during a bloody battle with German forces left no doubt about his bravery. On Nov. 1, 1917, Givens and fellow soldiers were attacked while on a reconnaissance mission, according to a 2017 article in the TimesDaily.

A historical marker in Lauderdale County at Seven Points, which was where the Givens home was once located, recounts Homer’s heroic actions: “Following a bloody two-hour battle on November 1, 1917, Corporal Givens stood alone after his comrades had fallen. He then managed to kill three enemy soldiers before being severely wounded by twenty-three pieces of shrapnel.”

The Digital Archives gave more details: “Cpl. Givens’ men started back for the trenches but Cpl. Givens himself didn’t run, instead firing on the Germans, killing three instantly before he himself was hit (some accounts say it was by a German bomb) and rolled back into the large shell crater where he pretended to be dead. The Germans, assuming he was dead, left. Later a squad of American soldiers came out, discovered the wounded Cpl. Givens and carried him to a nearby field hospital.”

Givens spent weeks in a hospital overseas but residents of his hometown couldn’t wait to honor him. The Sunday, April 26, 1918, edition of the Times Daily announced that Red Cross officials would be delivering “the Cross of War (Croix de Guerre) bestowed upon 20-year-old Homer Givens for extraordinary bravery on the battle front in France.”

Read more: How an Alabama teen became America’s first WWI hero


Innovative, team-taught class brings scale of World War I into focus through trip to European battlefields

By Brian Wallheimer
via the University of Notre Dame web site

More than 20 million people were killed and another 20 million or more were injured in World War I, but it’s difficult for Americans today to wrap their minds around just how catastrophic the conflict was. The last survivors have died, the war wasn’t fought on American soil, and it ended more than a century ago.

ND great war class 2In visiting sites across Europe, the Notre Dame University class combined conventional battlefield analysis with the collective and individual things people did to understand and come to terms with the war.But a group of Notre Dame students now has more than numbers, texts, or photos to help them understand the devastation.

As part of their Great War and Modern Memory class — an interdisciplinary course designed and team-taught by Robert Norton, a professor of German, and John Deak, an associate professor of history — they traveled to Europe to visit battlefields and World War I memorials along the western front.

The trip was fully funded through an Arts and Letters Teaching Beyond the Classroom grant and support from the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.

“It was an extraordinary opportunity that I hope we can replicate,” Norton said. “I’ve had colleagues at other institutions say, ‘I wish we could do that, but it would be impossible for us.’”

The goal for the class was to combine conventional battlefield analysis with the collective and individual things people did to understand and come to terms with the war, Norton said. 

“We wanted the students to physically experience the sites where so many of the important events of the First World War took place because we believe that gives the students an otherwise not possible insight into the nature of the war and how it’s described in literary and scholarly accounts,” he said.

Read more: Innovative, team-taught class brings scale of World War I into focus through trip to European...


Kimball World War I Memorial 700x525The Kimball World War I Memorial in West Virginia was the first memorial dedicated specifically to the African-American soldiers of the First World War. 

First Memorial to African-American Veterans of WWI Built in West Virginia

via the Only In Your State (WV) web site

West Virginia’s history is rich and varied, and the World War Memorial in Kimball, West Virginia is a prime example of this. This is a small museum, but it has a significant story share, and it is well worth your time to visit.

At the turn of the 20th century, McDowell County in West Virginia was booming with thriving coal and railroad communities.

Many of the workers for these industries were African-American, and when the United States entered World War 1, a platoon of 1,500 black soldiers from McDowell County signed up for the fight.They served our country with distinction, and many were recognized with special honors for their service.

A memorial dedicated specifically to the African-American soldiers of the First World War (the first memorial of its kind) was designed and built by architect and West Virginia native Hassell Hicks, opening in 1928 in Kimball, McDowell County.

Read more: First Memorial to African-American Veterans of WWI Built in West Virginia


Study Finds WWI Combat Helmet Is A Superior Shield Against Brain Trauma 

By David Welna
via the WAMU National Public Radio web site

In the weeks following Iran's Jan. 8 ballistic missile attack on the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, 110 American service members deployed there were diagnosed with what has been the signature, albeit invisible, wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: traumatic brain injury caused by concussive blasts from exploding weapons.

369th wearing French Adrian helmetsSoldiers of the 369th Infantry during World War I wear French "Adrian" helmets and use French-issued rifles and equipment. Even if all of those service members were wearing combat helmets, they and more than 400,000 other U.S. troops diagnosed with TBI over the past two decades lacked equipment that was specifically designed to protect their brains from the blast of shock waves.

That's because ever since the first modern combat helmet came out in 1915, these so-called "brain buckets" have been designed to protect heads not from invisible shock waves, but from shrapnel, bullets and other blunt physical objects.

In fact, a recent study done by a team of Duke University researchers finds that the 105-year-old "Adrian" helmet used by the French army in World War I can provide better blast protection than the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) widely used by the U.S. military.

"That was very surprising, actually," says Joost Op 't Eynde, the Belgian bioengineering doctoral candidate at Duke who led the research project comparing three WWI-vintage helmets with the ACH model. "It was only after the tests that we saw that the modern helmet was not better. And then we saw that, in certain scenarios, the French Adrian helmet had performed better."

Read more: Study Finds WWI Combat Helmet Is A Superior Shield Against Brain Trauma

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