From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
WWI Now: Commission Executive Director Dan Dayton
In July 29th's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 133, host Theo Mayer spoke with Executive Director Dan Dayton about the progress of the national memorial, the newly renamed memorial fundraising arm, and how World War I continues to resonate in American society. The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
Theo Mayer: Executive Director Dan DaytonFor Commission News we have another guest with us today, who has been as deeply immersed in the centennial of World War I as Matt Naylor has. Dan Dayton also has dual roles. First of all, Dan is the executive director of the US World War I Centennial Commission, and Dan is also the president of a 501-C3 nonprofit organization newly renamed The Doughboy Foundation. That's been the fundraising arm for the National World War I Memorial in Washington DC. Dan is also an avid listener to the podcast, having been the guy who asked us to develop it. Dan, thank you for joining us.
Dan Dayton: Theo, great to be with you. I do enjoy this podcast, so it's a special honor for me to be on with you today.
Theo Mayer: My first question to you is, you've spent the last half a decade immersed in nurturing the commemoration of World War I. How did you wind up in that role?
Dan Dayton: A gentleman from North Carolina, Jerry Hester, has been interested in World War I for much of his life. He is now an octogenarian, and one of my favorite people. And Jerry asked me for my help as a volunteer. As he began to discuss the importance of the war, its impact on the United States, its impact on the world, the impact the United States had when it entered the war, I knew I had to help him. He helped me to understand that. And he helped me to understand how important it is to remember those who came before, as well as the lessons that were learned in the war, and how critical they are, even to where we are today, and the effect on events in the world today.
An interesting thing, we had the model of the memorial on display at the 9/11 museum in Lower Manhattan last fall for about six weeks. When we first approached their museum leadership, they understood immediately the direct line connection between the effects of World War I and the attacks on the United States and 9/11. We didn't have to explain that. We didn't have to sell it. They said, "We've got it. We understand it. We want to help." So Jerry was the guy who got me in.
Read more: Podcast Article - Dan Dayton interview
A century ago: The 1919 Iowa State 'Victory Fair'
By Chris Rasmussen
via the Des Moines Register newspaper (IA) web site
In August 1919, Iowans streamed through the State Fair gates in record-breaking numbers to attend the “Victory Fair,” which celebrated World War I’s end.
An ad for the spectacle of Chateau Thierry from the Des Moines Register, Aug. 15, 1919. (Photo: The Register)Still reeling from the war’s carnage, they were hopeful that an era of peace and prosperity was dawning. Crop prices were high, farmers were buying automobiles, and improved roads enabled people to drive to the fair instead of taking a train. Happy to glimpse the return of peace, Iowans were eager to put the war behind them, turn to the future, and go to the fair.
But the war was seemingly everywhere on the fairgrounds. The main exhibit of the Victory Fair’s daytime program was the War Department’s display of weapons and trophies from the Western front. Iowans marveled at a 35-ton tank (a new weapon in WWI), artillery, and machine guns. The exhibit saluted Allied victory and allowed fairgoers to see the technology that had transformed warfare, just as tractors, automobiles and household appliances had remade farm life.
In the evening, the fair’s grandstand show, “The Grand, Scenic Military Spectacle, The Battle of Chateau Thierry,” re-enacted the battle in France that turned the tide of the war against Germany in 1918. Enormously popular with fairgoers, disaster spectacles headlined the fair’s entertainment from the 1890s into the 1930s. Thousands of spectators gaped as a cast of 300 portrayed American, French and German troops and clashed before the grandstand, culminating with a fireworks barrage that leveled the 450-foot wide set. A crew of 50 workers scrambled to rebuild the set in time for the next evening’s performance.
The fair’s advertisements stated that the spectacle was “under the direction of military experts” and presented a realistic view of warfare, but it was principally an eye-popping extravaganza to entertain viewers.
Veterans doubtless found it less than realistic. Register reporter Sue McNamara observed that a billboard for “Chateau Thierry” elicited nothing but “grins and groans” from a trainload of veterans returning home from the war in 1919.
The actual Battle of Chateau Thierry was a bloody fight, and Iowans were in the thick of it. American troops went “over the top,” leaving their trenches to assault the enemy lines and defeat some of Germany’s most battle-hardened troops. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was there, stated that the 167th Alabama and 168th Iowa displayed “gallantry I do not believe has been surpassed in military history” at Chateau Thierry.
Allied victory came at a price: The U.S. suffered 1,900 casualties, and 227 Iowans from the 168th gave their lives at Chateau Thierry and lie buried there. The 168th fought in some of the war’s toughest battles, suffering a total of 677 soldiers killed and 3,100 wounded in the war.
A few veterans of the 168th, along with the regiment’s chaplain, Des Moines pastor Winfred Robb, attended the 1919 fair. The 168th Infantry had trained on the fairgrounds in 1917 and received an emotional sendoff from thousands of well-wishers as their train departed from the fairgrounds and the regiment headed for France in early September. Two years later, the 168th pitched a tent on the grounds, in which Chaplain Robb met with grieving families and shared reminiscences of the young Iowans buried so far from home. As the Register’s Sue McNamara observed, the tent was a hushed, somber shrine, jarringly at odds with the fair’s festivity.
Determined that the heroism of the 168th not be forgotten, Chaplain Robb published a book, “The Price of Our Heritage; in Memory of the Heroic Dead of the 168 Infantry,” in 1919. Filled with photographs and testimonials to the soldiers’ bravery and sacrifice, Robb’s book is as inspiring and heartrending as any war memorial:
Read more: A century ago: The 1919 Iowa State 'Victory Fair'