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World War I Centennial News


 

 

Eliz and pledgeDaughters of the American Revolution member Elizabeth Clodfelter, 101 years old, leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the dedication ceremony for the new Argonne Bridge World War I Memorial in Spokane, WA on November 11, 2019.

Spokane community unites to restore World War I Memorial bridge

By Rae Anna Victor
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

mem2Spokane Argonne Bridge World War I MemorialHere in Spokane. WA, we raised nearly $20,000 and dedicated the Argonne World War I Memorial on Veterans Day 2019. Hundreds of people attended the dedication ceremony. We had an honor guard do the Bells of Peace Ceremony and the Marines do the flag salute, rifle volley, and taps. The 12 foot x 10 foot memorial features the names of the soldiers who died in the war from Spokane County, an original Doughboy hat, an eagle on a light post, and the story of the Argonne Offensive.

This was an incredible project. Here is how it happened:

Originally, five bronze plaques adorned the Argonne Bridge in Millwood; the bridge was named for the Argonne Meuse Offensive of World War I, and was dedicated on Veteran’s Day 1920. When the bridge was redone in the 70s, the plaques disappeared. Two have been recovered. The three with the names of the over 200 soldiers who lost their lives in World War I were not.

Months ago, I was chatting with local historian Chuck King. We have worked together on several historical projects. We talked about how sad it was that the plaques had been taken off the Argonne Bridge because now hardly anyone knew the origins of the name. Both of us agreed that it needed to be rectified and I said it might be a project my Jonas Babcock Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution chapter (DAR) would take on.

We kicked around several ideas. In 1970, when the bridge was redone, the dedication plaques were removed. I had heard that one the original bronze plaques was in the county roads office downtown, and that another had been donated to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. The two plaques that contained the names of all the soldiers who died in the war had disappeared.

Read more: Spokane community unites to restore World War I Memorial bridge

 

VFW Post 287 Celebrates 100th Anniversary by Honoring Cpl. Sahler 

By Joseph Felice
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

One day this past July while driving along Main Street in Coatesville, PA, banners lining the sidewalks piqued my innate curiosity about history. Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 287 issued these banners in honor of Coatesville area men and women who served their country past and present.

One banner in particular grabbed my attention because as far as I could determine it displayed the only local veteran who had served in the First World War. The banner read “Wellington G. Sahler, Killed in Action, 1918, Died in the Battle of Argonne Forrest.”

Sahler Eck PictureI always thought that World War I was overlooked in school and wanted to learn more about him. I contacted VFW Post 287 (which I had learned started the banner project in our town) on Facebook, and was surprised to discover that Sahler was their namesake. The post is named Sahler-Sedan VFW Post 287.

After discussing online with the Post Chaplain Claresa Whitfield about my interest in Sahler, she informed me that little was known about his history. She asked me to do research and invited me to the 100th anniversary celebration of the Post on December 7, 2019 to make a formal presentation of my work. Post 287 was chartered on December 4, 1919.

Sadly, I would come to learn that Sahler endured heartache and tragedy long before the atrocities of war claimed his life.

Wellington was born in March 1896 to Isaac Wayne and Rachel Sahler of Coatesville. In 1899, he was only three years old when his father succumbed to rheumatism. Following his father’s death, his mother secured employment as a clerk at W.W. Mast Department Store, present day Coatesville Cultural Society. While employed at Mast, Wellington was under the care of Rachel’s closest friend Rebecca Grey of Thorndale.

Read more: VFW Post 287 Celebrates 100th Anniversary by Honoring Cpl. Sahler

  

12th BC in ActionThe 12th Balloon Company in action in France during World War I. Author Robert Eugene Johnson's father Austin Johnson served in the 12th as a member of the American Expeditionary Forces.  

How I Found Austin—And How He Found Me 

By Robert Eugene Johnson
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

Note: Robert Eugene Johnson is the author of Austin in the Great War, the story of his father Austin Johnson's service in the 12th Balloon Company of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

My family always longed to know what happened to Austin during the Great War. When I retired I resolved to find out.

Front CoverAt the outset of my research I had only the barest facts about my father’s time “over there.” One of these was from his own lips—the only thing he ever uttered, either to me, to my mother, or to my eight siblings: “We left for France from Norfolk, Virginia.”

Dads LeavingsA few months later, three more pieces of information had made their way to me:

• A Great War Victory Medal, left among my father’s things, which had been saved by my sister Genevieve after our mother died. The three clasps on it read “Defensive Sector”; “St. Mihiel”; and “Meuse–Argonne.”

• A single red Private’s stripe—Dad had never even told us his rank—found in a side drawer of my mother’s old (treadle-powered) Singer sewing machine;

• A tightly folded, yellowed, tattered copy of a full-page newspaper article from the New York Times Magazine dated April 13, 1919 titled “Balloons: Eyes of the Army,” which had been sequestered in the same drawer. One paragraph on the second page of the article had been circled—by whom, I never discovered. It mentioned the 12th Balloon Company, and a special commendation it earned for bravery under fire.

First Goosebumps

It was when I read that NYT text that I began to realize there was a much bigger story hidden under my father’s iron reticence than I ever suspected. And it was the first (of many) cases of goosebumps when I finally got to the bottom of the story hinted-at by its sub-head: “Twenty-three Arose in a Blinding Storm at St. Mihiel and One Broke Its Leash, But Its Observers Gave Germans No Comfort.” (It was my father’s balloon that “broke its leash”—an accident that saw the only capture of AEF balloonists in the war.)

Read more: How I Found Austin—And How He Found Me

  

12th BC in ActionThe 12th Balloon Company in action in France during World War I. Author Robert Eugene Johnson's father Austin Johnson served in the 12th as a member of the American Expeditionary Forces.  

How I Found Austin—And How He Found Me 

By Robert Eugene Johnson
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

Note: Robert Eugene Johnson is the author of Austin in the Great War, the story of his father Austin Johnson's service in the 12th Balloon Company of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

My family always longed to know what happened to Austin during the Great War. When I retired I resolved to find out.

Front CoverAt the outset of my research I had only the barest facts about my father’s time “over there.” One of these was from his own lips—the only thing he ever uttered, either to me, to my mother, or to my eight siblings: “We left for France from Norfolk, Virginia.”

Dads LeavingsA few months later, three more pieces of information had made their way to me:

• A Great War Victory Medal, left among my father’s things, which had been saved by my sister Genevieve after our mother died. The three clasps on it read “Defensive Sector”; “St. Mihiel”; and “Meuse–Argonne.”

• A single red Private’s stripe—Dad had never even told us his rank—found in a side drawer of my mother’s old (treadle-powered) Singer sewing machine;

• A tightly folded, yellowed, tattered copy of a full-page newspaper article from the New York Times Magazine dated April 13, 1919 titled “Balloons: Eyes of the Army,” which had been sequestered in the same drawer. One paragraph on the second page of the article had been circled—by whom, I never discovered. It mentioned the 12th Balloon Company, and a special commendation it earned for bravery under fire.

First Goosebumps

It was when I read that NYT text that I began to realize there was a much bigger story hidden under my father’s iron reticence than I ever suspected. And it was the first (of many) cases of goosebumps when I finally got to the bottom of the story hinted-at by its sub-head: “Twenty-three Arose in a Blinding Storm at St. Mihiel and One Broke Its Leash, But Its Observers Gave Germans No Comfort.” (It was my father’s balloon that “broke its leash”—an accident that saw the only capture of AEF balloonists in the war.)

Read more: How I Found Austin—And How He Found Me (2)

 

 

1425981254 MARS SUR ALLIER hopital ame ricain vue ge ne ral American Expeditionary Forces Hospital Center Mars-sur-Allier, located south of  Nevers, France, near the village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel.

French village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel commemorates American presence in World War I

By André Garcia (Mayor of Saint- Parize-le-Châtel, France), Georges Martinat (Président de Hérédit-Nièvre—Historical Association of Saint-Parize
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

(Translated from French to English by Jenifer Burckett-Picker, daughter of WWI veteran, author of Dad and Dunk in the Great War, and visitor to commemorative celebrations at Mars-sur-Allier site in 2017. The information below was sent to Burckett-Picker by Andre Garcia, George Martinat, and Gianni Belli of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel— respectively the mayor, the head of the historical society, and the designer of historic route around the former World War I U.S. Hospital of Mars-sur-Allier. It tells of how citizens from the small French village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel (just south of the city of Nevers—former site of the Service of Supplies of the American Expeditionary Forces in WWI) still commemorate the American presence in their area where the huge Mars-sur-Allier Hospital Camp was located 1917-1919.)

CeremonyJune 25, 2017 ceremony with officials from Saint-Parize-le-Châtel and visiting Americans whose ancestors were in WWI working at the Mars-sur-Allier American Hospital. This marked the transfer of the 1924 French memorial from the cemetery to the site of the American Water Tower. Now both monuments constitute the “Memorial of the American Presence in the Nièvre”.We are interested in adding to the World War 1 Commission’s historic records the description of the historic commemorations and historic route with informational plaques at the site of the former WWI U.S. Hospital at Mars-sur-Allier that have taken place in France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. (Note that Mars-sur-Allier and Saint-Parize-le-Châtel are about 10 miles south of the French city of Nevers, which is in central France and was about midway between the Atlantic ports and the Western Front in the area of Verdun during WWI. Nevers was designated as a Service of Supplies area during WWI and as such had two very large hospitals built there – one just south of Nevers (Mars–sur-Allier) and one just north. 

For more than 20 years, we have commemorated along with the village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel, the Armistice of the 11th of November, 1918. Our village is the only one in the Nièvre Department (county) that possesses two monuments: one French and one American, that honor the sacrifice of these (American) men and women who were killed during the First World War.

Saint-Parize-le-Châtel is in the Nièvre Department (county), known today for its world-renowned F1 sports car track of Nevers/Magny-cours. However, at this same place in World War 1, between 1917-1919, there was a huge American camp hospital, considered today as one of the largest in the theater of European operations—the Mars-sur-Allier Hospital Center, APO 780 – established on over 700 acres.

Read more: French village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel commemorates American presence in World War I

 

Greenwood, MS American Legion Post 29 named after World War I heroes: Sam Keesler, Ward Hamrick, Gordon Gillespie 

By Harley L. Davidson, Ph.D.
Veterans Services Historian, United States World War One Centennial Commission

American Legion Post 29 in Greenwood, Mississippi bears the name of three World War I veterans who all sacrificed their lives during the Great War.

Sam Keesler Ward Hamrick Gordon GillespieLt. Samuel R. Keesler, Jr. was born on April 11, 1896 in Greenwood and attended Davidson College. He joined the United States’ burgeoning U.S. Army Air Service, commanding the 24th Aero Squadron in the Verdun sector of the Western Front. Air combat emerged during World War I as a vital piece of modern warfare. Aerial reconnaissance was crucial for increasing the accuracy of artillery bombardment and determining the depth and layout of enemy trenches.

Keesler was performing reconnaissance over German territory on October 8, 1918 when his plane came under attack by squadron of German Fokkers. Keesler was wounded six times and his plane forced down, but he took a German plane down with him. He died the next day in a German hospital and was eventually buried at Saint Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial in France. Keesler’s legacy lives on. In addition to winning the World War I Victory Medal with Silver Star, the Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi was named after him in 1941.

Cpt. Henry W. Hamrick (326th Inf. AEF) and Lt. Gordon Gillespie perished within days of one another during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in mid-October 1918. Their deaths highlight the tragedy of so many American servicemen in the war’s final months, so close to escaping the war with their lives. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest and greatest American operation of the war and punctuated the Allies’ inevitable victory on the Western Front.

Captain Hamrick died on October 15, 1918 after being struck by shrapnel from an artillery shell. Hamrick’s unit had just been relieved from the front lines and was on its way to the rear when the artillery shell struck near Hamrick.

A few days later, a German bullet killed Cpt. Gillespie on October 18, 1918 while he was commanding a machine gun company.

Read more: Greenwood, MS American Legion Post 29 named after World War I heroes

 

Minority veterans of World War I to be considered for Medals of Honor 

By Caitlin M. Kenny
via the Stars and Stripes web site

WASHINGTON — Minority World War I veterans whose actions during the war were overlooked because of their race or religion could have their service records reviewed to determine whether some of them deserve the Medal of Honor.

09 007 5Members of the 369th Infantry, formerly the 15th New York Guard Regiment, arrive in New York City in 1919. The regiment has been known as the Famous 369th, the Harlem Hellfighters and the Black Rattlers. War Department photo.The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, if it is passed and signed into law, would require the service secretaries to re-examine the records of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Jewish American and Native American veterans of World War I who earned medals for valor and decide whether any of them should be upgraded to the nation’s highest military honor.

The World War I Valor Medals Review Act spearheaded the effort to review the service records and is included in the final version of the NDAA. The bill was originally introduced in the House in April by Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.

“The World War I Valor Medals Review Act provides an opportunity to correct this injustice for countless American heroes and their families. This bill ensures that minorities who served in World War I are honored with the recognition they deserve on behalf of a grateful nation,” Hill said in a news release after his bill was included in the NDAA, which directs policy and spending plans for the Defense Department.

The review would look at minority veterans who were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, or the Croix de Guerre with Palm awarded by the French government, for actions that occurred between April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918. The review would also determine whether the Defense Department has records for minority veterans who had been recommended for a Medal of Honor during that time period.

Read more: Minority veterans of World War I to be considered for Medals of Honor

 

fitA rendering of the planned National World War I Memorial in Washington's Pershing Park.The first phase of construction began December 12. 

Construction Has Finally Begun On The National World War I Memorial In D.C. 

By Jon Banister
via the BISNOW (Washington, DC) web site

For more than a century after World War I ended, Washington did not have a national monument to commemorate its combatants, but after years of slogging through complex approval processes and raising tens of millions of dollars, that is about to change. 

The World War I Centennial Commission last week received building permits and celebrated the groundbreaking of the National World War I Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, more than a decade after the effort to build it began.

The groundbreaking comes more than a century after the war ended with the Treaty of Versailles. The Centennial Commission was founded in 2013, and the following year, Congress authorized the construction of a memorial on Pershing Park, a 1.8-acre site just one block from the White House.

Construction was able to begin after the project reached a series of milestones in recent months, including design approvals from the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission in September and October, respectively, and the culmination of fundraising.

The Centennial Commission recently reached its goal of raising $40M for construction of the memorial, with donations this year including $1M from the National Football League, $1M from the Carnegie Foundation and $5M from the Lilly Endowment, Centennial Commission Vice Chairman Edwin Fountain tells Bisnow. He said the commission is continuing to fundraise for the dedication events and virtual elements of the memorial.

Read more: Construction Has Finally Begun On The National World War I Memorial In D.C.

Lilly Endowment donates $5 million to help build new National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC

Lilly Endowment LogoThe U.S. World War I Centennial Commission has announced a $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to the United States Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars (the Doughboy Foundation) in support of the campaign to build the first-ever National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Memorial, to be located near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue at 15th Street NW, will include a 58-foot-long bronze, 38 character wall telling the story of America’s involvement in the war through the experience of a single soldier. Based on the average visitation of nearby D.C. memorials and landmarks, it is anticipated that the Memorial will receive a minimum of 1.5 million visitors per year.

To date, the Commission and Foundation have raised approximately $44 million toward the $50 million campaign goal and the Commission recently received a building permit from the National Park Service (NPS) to begin construction.

“This is a transformative moment in our campaign,” said Dan Dayton, Executive Director of the Commission. “Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Lilly Endowment and many others, we are now within striking distance of finally honoring the veterans of the First World War in our nation’s capital.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation that was created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company.

One of Lilly Endowment’s founders, J.K. Lilly Jr., served in World War I and rose to the rank of captain in the medical supply service of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Read more: Lilly Endowment donates $5 million to help build new National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC

 

WWI Memorial Construction Launch(December 12, 2019) Key leaders joined the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission on the site of the new National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC to mark the start of construction. (Left to right) National Park Service Acting Director David Vela; Commission Special Advisor Admiral Mike Mullen; Commission Chair Terry Hamby; Commission Special Advisor Senator John Warner; and U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

First construction phase began December 12 

U.S. World War I Centennial Commission Receives Construction Permit For New National World War I Memorial In Washington, DC. 

via PR Newswire 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2019 -- The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission has received a building permit from the National Park Service (NPS) for the first construction phase of the new National World War I Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

Key leaders gathered on the Memorial site to mark the start of construction, including Commission Chair Terry Hamby, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, National Park Service Acting Director David Vela, Commission Special Advisors Senator John Warner and Admiral Mike Mullen, and others.

The first phase of construction will be a 360-day project to rebuild the former Pershing Park, and prepare the site for the eventual installation of the Memorial bronze sculpture when it is completed. The building permit was awarded after the Memorial design was approved by the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission earlier in 2019.

The Memorial is being built under the Commission's authority by the Doughboy Foundation. Prime contractor for Memorial construction is Grunley Construction Company, Inc. Architect for the Memorial is GWWO Architects.

Chair Hamby was very pleased with the receipt of the building permit and start of construction. "Finally the 4.7 million Americans who left their homes to deploy to a country most had never visited, fight in a war they did not start, and were willing to die for peace and liberty for people they did not know, will be honored at this magnificent spot in our nation's capital," he said.

Read more: U.S. World War I Centennial Commission Receives Construction Permit For New National World War I...

 

Saturday, December 7; Tuesday, December 17 & Wednesday, December 18

They Shall Not Grow Old returns to theaters in December for limited run

Back by Popular Demand, Academy Award-winner Peter Jackson’s masterpiece WWI documentary in theaters near you this Holiday Season, featuring never seen before World War I soldiers and events colorized and in 3D.

This cutting edge, cinema event was created by using materials from the BBC and Imperial War Museum’s archives, including 600 hours of archival interviews. Using the voices of the men involved, the film explores the reality of war on the front line; their attitudes to the conflict; how they ate; slept and formed friendships, as well what their lives were like away from the trenches during their periods of downtime.

Jackson and his team used cutting-edge techniques to make the images of a hundred years ago appear as if they were shot yesterday. The transformation from black and white footage to colorized 3D footage can be seen throughout the film, revealing never-before-seen details. Reaching into the mists of time, Jackson aims to give these men voices, investigate the hopes and fears of the veterans, the humility and humanity that represented a generation changed forever by a global war.

These showings include an exclusive introduction from Jackson, and interview with him at the close.

DON’T MISS THE SPECIAL SHOWING of “They Shall Not Grow Old” December 7, 17 & 18 at a theater near you. Click here to find the closest theater, and to purchase tickets:

 

 

 

Chasuble in Ossuaire BishopBishop Francois Maupu oversees placement of the Chasuble in the Chapel in the Ossuaire at Verdun, November 11, 2007. 

Remember Frank Havlik: Doing what's right

By Dave Theis, Ed.D, LTC U.S. Army (Ret.)
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

He saw the church in flames. Corporal Frank Havlik, E Co, 355 Infantry, 89th Division, was attacking in WWI.

Havlik at FunstonFrank Stephen Havlik at Camp FunstonHavlik and his buddy entered the church and found no one there. They did find a priest’s golden robe, a chasuble. To save it, they separated front from back. Havlik folded the back, and put it under his tunic.

At St Mihiel and in the Meuse Argonne, Havlik attacked, and endured machine gun fire, artillery, gas. He made it through both attacks without a scratch. He never recorded in which attack the church was.

He wrote many letters to his beloved Vlasta Vonasek, without mentioning the chasuble. When he returned, he told Vlasta the chasuble saved him and kept him safe. His intent? Return it to the rightful owner.

Havlik was drafted in April 1918, trained at Camp Funston, deployed with the 89th to France. His baptism of fire was at Jury Woods. Through all, he was known to do what’s right, evidenced by his promotion to corporal and his two gold war service ribbons.

Upon the Armistice, he returned to the U.S. In New York, and in his hometown of Omaha, the welcome home was terrific.

Vlasta and Frank married, had two sons, Frank and Wesley. The Depression and WWII came and went. Vlasta kept the treasured chasuble in her cedar chest. Both wanted to return it.

Frank died in 1952, Vlasta in 1975. The chasuble passed to their son Wesley. In 2002, shortly before he died, Wesley reaffirmed the need to return the chasuble.

Read more: Remember Frank Havlik

 

A Memoir of the War: A Doughboy's Journey Through France and Germany in World War I 

By Charles Daris
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

Writing the memoirs of his participation in the American Expeditionary Forces twelve years after the end of the First World War, my father proudly declared that the time he was in uniform was “the greatest experience of my life.” Reading them, one can sense that he relished every minute of it, including terrifying moments in combat or coping with mind-numbing mud whether in the trenches or on his never-ending marches. But he never lost his sense of humor. The ubiquitous mud and frequent rain often prompted him and his buddies to remark with no little irony, “sunny France!”

cover 2The young man from a small New England town, Ashburnham MA, arrived wide-eyed in Old Europe and absorbed it all with fascination and curiosity. He wrote of the cobblestone streets, the charming chapels, the seemingly endless quantities of wine, the pretty French girls. He continued to marvel when, after the Armistice, he was part of the American Army of Occupation in the enchantingly picturesque Rhine valley in Germany.

He served in the 4th Division, 47th Infantry, Company A. Throughout his service he wrote copious notes in the small diaries he kept with him. These treasured memories made it possible for him to narrate his adventures in detail years later. He also researched the origins of the U.S. participation in the war and the history of his own regiment and incorporated his findings into his memoirs.

He told me that one of his sisters had typed the narrative for him on the onion-skin parchment that I kept in a box for a very long time. In addition to the narrative, he created a set of four photo books that included photos and postcards annotated in stunning relief in white ink on black construction paper, written in his impeccable penmanship.

The collection – the narrative and the photo books - have been recreated and are presented herewith in more readable format in two volumes.

My father was one of ten children, the offspring of humble French-Canadian immigrants who spoke virtually no English. Their house was lively and bustling with activity, accompanied always by great hilarity. I recall having my first taste of cold beer in that house when my mustachioed grandfather mischievously let me have a sip. Dad’s sense of humor was nurtured in that house, and it resurfaced time and time again in his descriptions of his war experiences.

Read more: A Memoir of the War A Doughboy's Journey Through France and Germany in World War I

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