World War I Centennial News


"Their sacrifices remain timeless."

Composing “The Boys of ‘17”

By Gordon Thomas Ward
Special to the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission web site

In the fall of 2016, I found myself an exhibitor at a history conference in NJ, as many of my books and songs are about historic events and tell stories from the past. I had my CD Welcome to the Past playing on my table to increase traffic and interest when a woman named Nancy stopped by from a neighboring table to say she represented a genealogical society and was drawn to the historical stories she heard in my songs. This prompted a very nice conversation between us. Several weeks later, Nancy telephoned me to ask if I would be interested in writing a song about the men who died in service to our country during World War One. As fate would have it, she was working on an event to honor them in her town of Westfield, NJ. I immediately said, “Yes.”

After hanging up the phone, I realized I had some research to do. I had been a history teacher, and I knew the basic facts behind the war, but I wanted to make it personal. As a songwriter, I wanted to write a song that was about one soldier and every soldier at the same time. I needed to get into the heads of the men who served and died in The Great War. Consequently, I set out on a learning quest.

I’ve never fired a gun, except for a pellet gun that I used to shoot at cans on a fence post when I was eleven years old under my godfather’s watchful eyes and guidance. Having grown up in the 1960s, I know nothing of soldiering from experience, aside from the graphic photos and film clips I’ve seen on newscasts. As a result, I delved into reading personal accounts from WWI soldiers, reviewing pamphlets, and watching historic video footage. Eventually, I settled on a title, “The Boys of ’17,” and the flesh and bones of the song took shape and gelled in my mind, as the creative gears began to turn.

Cover Art Boys of 17 400It became quite apparent to me that most of the men (‘boys”) that served in WWI had no experiential reference point from which to prepare themselves for the situations awaiting them. Oh, sure, they went through basic training and learned how to soldier, but nothing could ever prepare them for the absolute hell on earth that they were about to witness. Farmhands and professional men, urban and suburban gentlemen, and back-country boys, barely out of their teens, were massed together amidst the glorious posters, parades, send-offs, and patriotic music. Clearly, they were made aware of the dangers and perils, but it was impossible for them to prepare emotionally and wrap their heads around the experiences they were about to have.

Life in the trenches on the Western Front was a scene out of Dante’s hell. As the lyrics in “The Boys of ‘17” mention, there was mud, disease, and cold like few of us have experienced. Rats were a very common sight, and gas warfare was a constant threat. One needed to be on guard constantly during times of attack. The zigzag pattern of the trenches created a situation where enemy soldiers with bayonets and rifles might be just around the corner of one’s trench section. The stress was never-ending and highly intense.

Read more: Composing “The Boys of ‘17”

Plaque honors MT women veterans of WWI

By Ed Kemmick
via Last Best News

Billings, MT – One hundred years to the day after the United States entered World War I, 23 female veterans of that conflict received a long-overdue salute.

Women WW1 plaqueA plaque memorializing the 23 women with connections to Yellowstone County, MT who served in World War I was dedicated April 6. (Ed Kemmick/Last Best News)A plaque honoring the women, all of whom were either born or buried in Yellowstone County, or entered federal service here, was dedicated Thursday morning on the lawn of the Yellowstone County Courthouse.

Ed Saunders, an Army veteran from Laurel who spent six years finding the female veterans and chronicling their service, called his quest “an effort to shine the light and show the road back home for them, as they have been largely lost to Montana history.”

Ed SaundersEd SaundersHe said it was the duty of people all over Montana to “follow our lead and find, validate and honor the military service of Montana’s women veterans of World War I.” Dedicating the plaque, he said, was a way of saying, “Well done, women veterans of World War I from Yellowstone County. You are forgotten no more.”

The dedication was attended by local government officials, representatives of local law enforcement, many veterans, representatives of both of Montana’s U.S. senators and more than 100 onlookers.

Three special guests were members of the Mission Valley Honor Guard—all of them female veterans who are also enrolled members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in northwestern Montana.

Saunders’ researches are not confined to Yellowstone County, and one of his most recent discoveries was the service record of Regina McIntyre Early, an Army nurse who served in four hospitals in France during World War I. Early belonged to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and Saunders thinks she might be the first female veteran of WWI who was an enrolled member of an American Indian tribe in Montana.

Saunders recounted her story and those of several of the women listed on the plaque, noting that while no American servicewomen—almost all of them Army nurses or Navy clerical workers—died from hostile fire during World War I, “hundreds died from disease, accidents of war and utter exhaustion.”

Read more: Plaque honors MT women veterans of WWI

Indians, Germans, and the great trial in San Francisco

"This was not a straightforward case."

By Suruchi Mohan
Special to the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

(Note: the new Vande Mataram in the USA section of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission web site looks at the experiences of Asian Indians in World War I America. Writer Suruchi Mohan will be exploring the intricacies of the great San Francisco trial of Indian Nationalists and Germans accused of violating the United States neutrality laws by conspiring on American soil with Germany to overthrow the British Raj. In this article, she describes how she came across the story, and the challenges of writing it.)

The Story:

In the fall of 2015, I went to a docent-led tour of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. After meandering through the lower floors of the James R. Browning courthouse, we reached Courtroom One on the third floor. Our docent pointed out the rare marbles imported from Italy, the mosaics, the Corinthian columns. We stood in the bar noting the majesty of the architecture when he called attention to a bullet hole in the judge’s bench. Although covered over by a mosaic, the entry point of the bullet was clear. A shooting had taken place there over some dispute among Indians, he said.

Suruchi Mohan 300Suruchi MohanAssuming that he was referring to Native Americans, I came home and googled. It took no time to find out that the Indians from Courtroom One were from my native country, India. This new information gave a whole new color to the story. Little did I know that a century ago there were enough of us on the West Coast to hate one another so.

When the building opened to the public in 1905, it housed the U.S. Post Office and district courts. In 1996, after earthquake retrofitting, it opened as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


A call to Rollins Emerson, Court of Appeals archivist and our docent, revealed the presence of many binders in an attic in the Ninth Circuit courthouse.

I set up an appointment with him. He met me on the other side of the security check. Together we took a steep flight of stairs to a tiny room overlooking the courtyard. There they were, an intimidating collection of boxes and binders from criminal case number 6133. They had been moved here from their home in the basement of the federal building that now houses the U.S. districts courts.

Emerson carried most of the documents down to the first floor to a beautiful, well-lighted library, which had been built just before information went online. Consequently, it doesn’t look like the law library you’d envision, with volumes of leather-bound books in red and black with gold lettering.

Read more: Indians, Germans, and the great trial in San Francisco

Four Questions for Betsy Anderson

"Every international challenge we face today has roots in that war and its aftermath."

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

The WW1CC is thrilled to have a new volunteer member on board to help us! Betsy Anderson will be our Volunteer Coordinator, and will manage the contributions from our various friends, who help us with event planning, social media writing, photography, partnerships, administrative issues, etc. She is an amazing person, with a fascinating background, and she comes from a family who was deeply touched by World War I. Betsy took some time to tell us a little bit about her story.

Welcome to the WW1CC Team! Where are you coming from, what was your earlier career?

Betsy AndersonBetsy AndersonI am delighted to volunteer with the team. I retired from the Foreign Service after a 35-year career, mostly in our Embassies overseas, where my main job was to help U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. I worked in Australia, Canada, Senegal, Switzerland, Greece and Sweden. Later, in Washington, I directed the Office of Overseas Citizens Services and the Passport Office in the Department of State. After my retirement, I worked part time as an inspector in the Office of Inspector General, visiting Embassies to make sure they were doing things "by the book."

What an amazing background & set of skills! How did you hear about the Centennial Commission, and how did come to decide to help us?

I got interested in WW1 in the early 1990s when I inherited my great-uncle's letters. He served in the AEF in France. I heard about the Centennial Commission at the WW1 Museum in Kansas City, which I visited in 2015 while doing research. In a visit to the Western Front battlefields last fall, I encountered many school groups from Canada, Australia, and all over Europe, where young people were learning about the history and sacrifices made during the war, and I decided I really had to be part of the effort to educate Americans about the importance of the war and its consequences.

Read more: Four Questions for Betsy Anderson

 World War I and the Marine Corps

Bravery at Belleau Wood set the tone for today's force

By Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, USMC (Ret.)
via Military Times

America’s initial entry into World War I, which came three years after the fighting began, was more promise than power. Military experts on both sides of the Atlantic knew the U.S. had very few experienced combat troops at its disposal.

Bryan BattagliaBryan BattagliaFirst in FranceThe Army had been deployed to the Philippines to fight insurgents, but that experience was very different from this battlefield, where machine guns, artillery and chemical warfare were capable of killing 10,000 men in a day. The Marines, totaling less than 15,000 men, had seen combat action in China and Nicaragua, but even that experience did not seem enough to help them prepare for their future charge in France.

Army Gen. John Pershing was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to lead the American Expeditionary Force; Pershing, wanting to preserve the integrity of field formations, was opposed to integrating combat units.

America was now at war, and the Marines would be called upon. Congress approved 31,000 additional Marines, and to rapidly increase the Corps’ fighting strength, Gen. George Barnett, commandant of the Marine Corps, successfully orchestrated a nationwide recruiting campaign to enlist and commission the best of America’s volunteers.

It is then that the Marine Corps would undergo a radical transformation to do what was asked of them. Following boot camp and Officer Candidate School, Marines would take on more advanced garrison and field training both stateside and following their arrival in France.

Read more: World War I and the Marine Corps: Bravery at Belleau Wood set the tone for today's force

Why biplanes won out as the warbirds of World War One

By Darren Orfd
via Popular Mechanics

Manfred von Richthofen isn't exactly a household name, but his alias is. During World War One, von Richthofen, also known as the Red Baron, won 80 air combat victories, and he did so while flying biplanes. But why exactly were these two-winged planes (and in the Red Baron's case the three wings of the Fokker DR.I), the aerial weapons of choice during The Great War?

AircraftReal Engineering digs into the topic, exploring the different types of planes flown during the war and the continual progression of these airplanes. Biplanes were so popular because engines weren't nearly powerful enough for the task at hand. In order to attach any weapons at all (more than just a handheld pistol and a few grenades), engineers needed to figure out how to increase lift.

Since they couldn't simply install a more powerful engine, they turned to the wings. Increasing wingspan is another way to increase lift, but they needed to keep the wings as short as possible so the plane could still maneuver. That's how the stacked wings of the World War One biplane were born.

With its ability to fly over enemy lines, whether for battle or reconnaissance, the biplane rendered trench warfare obsolete, and the evolution of aviation (along with the development of tanks) would completely change the way Europe would fight a war only a couple decades later.

Read more: Why Biplanes Won Out as the Warbirds of World War One

"Our commitment today is rooted in the history we commemorate."

By Général d’armée aérienne Denis Mercier
Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

(Remarks delivered at the NATO Festival Flag Raising Ceremony, Norfolk, VA 28 April 2017.)

It is an honour and an immense pleasure for me to welcome you to our flag-raising ceremony, on the occasion of the annual NATO festival, here, at the heart of this beautiful city of Norfolk.

NATO SACT General Dennis MercierNATO SACT General Dennis MercierAllow me first to pay tribute to the Patrouille de France, the French Air Force demonstration team, who honoured us with a flyover just minutes ago, and who will demonstrate its skills tomorrow above the Elizabeth River, closing a month-long tour of air shows and demonstrations all across American skies.

This year’s NATO festival comes at a very symbolic time, because we also celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the United States officially entering World War One. It is symbolic, because this US commitment materialized for the first time since the American Revolution the existence of the Transatlantic bond – a bond based first and foremost on shared beliefs and values, but which also has a physical reality.

The construction of what became the Norfolk Naval Base began in 1917, a home port to secure the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic Ocean, and bring the US soldiers to the fight in Europe. Later, after the creation of the Alliance, the Allied Command Atlantic was established here, in 1953, with a comparable mission to defend and safeguard the passage across the Atlantic Ocean.

The evolutions of our security environment have led to its replacement by the Allied Command Transformation in 2003, with a different mission. But the necessity to secure the sea lines of communications did not disappear: the recent deployment of American and Canadian forces at our eastern borders in Europe leads NATO to reflect once again on the physical reality of the Transatlantic space.

As NATO approaches its 70th anniversary, it has proven to be a bedrock of security, both for Europe and for the United States. History has demonstrated time and again how important this Alliance is for the security and prosperity of our populations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Read more: SACT Remarks at the NATO Festival Flag Raising Ceremony, Norfolk, 28 April 2017

New Memorial database lists Georgians who died in World War I

via PRNewswire

ATLANTA, April 28, 2017 -- Georgians who died in service during World War I are being commemorated in a unique way as part of the centennial observance of the "Great War." In a project sponsored by the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission, retired state librarian Dr. Lamar Veatch is compiling an on-line database that, when complete, will be the most comprehensive listing of Georgia service personnel who died in service during that war 100 years ago. The names and information for some 1,300 soldiers and sailors are now on the Centennial Commission's web site and others are being added as they are confirmed.

U of North GeorgiaThe University of North Georgia (UNG) is one of only six senior military colleges in the nation and is designated as The Military College of Georgia. As such, UNG has taken a leading role in supporting and hosting the work of the commission.

The foundation of the database comes from the state's officially published 1921 Georgia State Memorial Book. Under racial practices of the time, that book contained only the names of white personnel. As part of the centennial observance, this historic exclusion is being corrected by adding the names and information of African-American soldiers. Information on all known service personnel who died in the war can be found by name, home county and town, and date and manner of death.

The commission's website also includes an online inventory of war memorials and plaques located throughout the state. Photographs and descriptions of these "Monuments, Memorials, and Historic Sites" from 125 locations across Georgia already are on the website, and others are being added as they become known. In addition to World War I monuments in virtually every county seat of the state, the site includes information on 16 military training camps, President Woodrow Wilson's boyhood home in Augusta, Memorial Hall at UGA, and the grave of the "Known Soldier" in Rome, among many other sites. Names found on these monuments but not included in the original Memorial Book are being added to the database. This work is part of a national centennial program to find and record all such tributes to Americans who fought and died in World War I.

This participation in the war had huge impact on the USCG afterward. Tell us about how things changed, and what was to come with their role in WWII and beyond.

KY students make poppiesStudents at Augusta Independent School are creating poppies to help honor KY World War I veterans

Kentucky students honor WWI veterans with poppies

By Christy Howell-Hoots
via the Ledger-Independent

AUGUSTA, KY -- Students at Augusta Independent School are creating poppies to help honor World War I veterans in Frankfort.

AIS Principal Robin Kelsch said a letter was sent to the school from Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Heather French Henry asking if students would participate in efforts to recognize the more than 2,000 Kentuckians who died in World War I.

According to Henry, the first use of the poppies will be at the Kentucky State Fair in August. The poppies will be placed on a World War I poppy wall.

"Fairgoers will have a chance to make a poppy to add to the existing poppies with hopes that at the end of our commemoration in the summer of 2019, we will have enough poppies to line the steps of the state capital in Frankfort," Henry said.

Kelsch said AIS was more than happy to participate in the project, because it is for such a good cause.

"I'm glad to have Augusta Independent School involved in this," Kelsch said. "It's something we're all about.

Third grade students Spencer Plummer and Lane Harding said they enjoyed making the poppies. Their class had already finished the poppies for the wall.

"It was fun," Plummer said. "I'd like to do it again in the future."

Harding said the class made 21 poppies.

"We each made one and there are 21 kids in the class," he said. "We're going to put them on a wall and make a path at the capital."

Fourth grade student Mallory Jett said her class is currently working to complete the poppies.

"I like it," she said. "It's fun and it's important. I was glad to do it, because I have a lot of family who are veterans."

Read more: KY students honor WWI veterans with poppies

Essex Resident on World War I Commission

By Rita Christopher
via Shore Publishing

There are people who argue that the 20th century in the United States really began nearly two decades after its formal start. That date is April 6, 1917. It’s not because our calendars were defective, but because on April 6, 1917, America entered World War I fighting on the side of France and the United Kingdom against the forces allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

TJack Monahan 400Jack Monahan of Essex one of 12 members of the United States World War One Centennial Commission. (Photo courtesy of Jack Monahan ) he United States joined the conflict as a nation with limited experience on the world stage. It emerged as a major international power.

“It changed America’s role in the world,” said Jack Monahan of Essex, one of 12 members of the United States World War One Centennial Commission, charged with making sure Americans don’t forget the struggle.

The commission, Monahan explained, has a mandate to memorialize the war, honor those who fought in it and educate the wider public about the American role in the conflict. The group organized a major commemoration on the anniversary in Kansas City featuring a video narrated by actor Gary Sinise, along with music, poetry, and readings all designed to mark America’s entry into the war. The event included flyovers from a B-2 stealth bomber and a French aviation group, trailing red, white, and blue plumes to signify both the French and American flags.

The celebrations were held in Kansas City because there is an existing World War I memorial in that city, but part of the commission’s mandate is to help raise funds for a World War I memorial in Washington, D.C. The monument will be located in Pershing Park, named for General John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Monahan, a retired U.S. Army officer, pointed out that there are monuments in Washington D.C., to the other major struggles in which the United States has participated in the 20th century: World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, but no memorial structure to World War I. The commission is also charged with raising funds to renovate some 100 World War I memorials throughout the country.

World War I, Monahan said, is the least-known, the most overlooked of 20th-century conflicts, yet he maintained that much of what characterized that century grew from the war. The draft brought people who had come to this country in the great years of immigration at the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century together for the first time. Monahan pointed out that the famous 42nd Infantry Division known as the Rainbow Division had National Guard units from more than 26 states.

“In that sense, it made modern America,” Monahan said.

Read more: Essex Resident on World War I Commission

Telling the Untold Stories of World War I Soldiers, Sailors and Marines at Suresnes American Cemetery

PARIS, Tuesday, April 25, 2017 – Students from the American School of Paris (ASP) clustered around headstones at Suresnes American Cemetery last week with pens and notebooks in hand, forming research questions about the Americans honored there. Three teenage girls sat on the grass near one headstone, working together to think through some of the questions. Amelie, one of the students, asked: “Why did he become a soldier?” “Did he have a diary during the war?” “Why is he buried in France?” But this visit wasn’t just a one-day field trip to the American World War I cemetery outside of Paris, rather it served as the starting point for an entirely new student project.

BT1 6673Students from the American School of Paris discuss a new project while visiting Suresnes American Cemetery. (Photo credit: Thomas Neville/American School of Paris.)Gathered with his students on the cemetery grounds that day, their teacher, Thomas Neville, announced the classes’ new assignment—the Monuments Project. With more than 35,000 Americans buried or memorialized overseas from World War I, there are thousands of untold stories, and the students learned they would be uncovering some of these unknown, personal histories. “This is very valuable because this soldier never lived on to tell his story, and should have the chance to be known, since he did a great service to his country,” said Katie, one of the students, in reflecting after the visit.

Through a connection with an American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) staff member in the Paris area, Neville and ABMC began working through this project idea in the fall of 2016. “Very little is known about a lot of the people buried at Suresnes,” said Neville. “That’s a perfect problem statement to begin with. That’s an authentic experience for the students.” And as the idea evolved, Neville found a trans-Atlantic connection to expand the effort and bring on a partner school that had done a similar project in the past.

Anthony Rovente, a social studies teacher with Lopez Island Middle High School (LIMHS), teaches in a school on an island off the coast of Washington state. Accessible only by ferry, Rovente is constantly trying to use technology in his classroom to bridge this geographic gap. Last year, one of his classes embarked on ProjectWA, an effort that focused on lesser known aspects of Washington state history delivered via a smartphone app. When Neville began researching for this new project with the cemetery, he came across a story about Rovente and ProjectWAProjectWA. Because Neville and Rovente both loved the concept of connecting history with place, teaming their classes up together to tackle the stories at Suresnes American Cemetery seemed like a perfect fit.

Read more: Telling the Untold Stories of World War I Soldiers, Sailors and Marines at Suresnes American...

At a hefty cost, WWI made the U.S. a major military power

By Greg Myre
via National Public Radio

World War I sometimes seems like the war America forgot.

The U.S. entered the fight a century ago, on April 6, 1917, nearly three years after it erupted in Europe during the summer of 1914. The Americans made quite a splash, turning a stalemate in favor of their British and French allies.

Pershing at ArlingtonGen. John "Black Jack" Pershing visits Arlington National Cemetery in 1925. Pershing led the U.S. forces in World War I, the moment when the American military first displayed its might in a major foreign war. The U.S. military suffered heavy losses, but it also expanded dramatically, modernized and became more professional under Pershing's command. The cost was hefty, with the U.S. losing 116,000 troops in a war that claimed some 9 million lives. Yet it also marked the coming of age of the American military, which transformed itself overnight from a small army engaged in regional battles into a major powerhouse — a role it maintains to this day.

Still, World War I has been overshadowed by other American wars. It tends to be glossed over in schools, and this centennial has been muted compared to a pair of recent milestones: the 75th anniversary of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack that launched the U.S. into World War II, and the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

"The Civil War and the Second World War get a lot more attention from Americans," said Christopher Capozzola, who teaches history at MIT and has written extensively about World War I. "But I think if you step back, especially a century later, and look at the First World War, it touched nearly every aspect of American life, public and private, and every community in the country, in ways that are a little less visible but maybe just as important."

Prior to World War I, the U.S. fought a few limited skirmishes abroad, in places such as Mexico, Cuba and the Philippines. The U.S. had neither the inclination nor the military might to wage a major war in Europe, and the Americans initially sat on the sidelines under the banner of "armed neutrality."

President Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 with the slogan "He kept us out of war."

But when German submarines launched a new round of attacks on civilian vessels in early 1917, including American ships, the American mood changed. With a sense of resignation, Wilson called for war — and Congress backed him.

"Armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable," Wilson told Congress.

But as historian Libby O'Connell noted, the American military was less than awe-inspiring.

"We had a tiny military. We had just a 130,000 troops before we declared war," said O'Connell, a commissioner on the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, set up by Congress to mark the anniversary.

Read more: World War I Made The U.S. A Major Military Power

National World War I Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington, DC

In D.C., WWI wall's crafters face hurdles

By Frank E. Lockwood
via Arkansas Online

WASHINGTON -- The new national World War I memorial won't be finished in time for the centennial of the armistice that ended the conflict, officials said last week.

The memorial won't be as sweeping as originally envisioned, either, but the simpler design may cost less money and encounter less opposition, they added.

Edwin FountainEdwin FountainFayetteville native Joseph Weishaar was selected as the designer after winning an international competition. Phoebe Lickwar, a professor at the University of Arkansas' Fay Jones School of Architecture, is the project's landscape architect. Sabin Howard, a New York City sculptor, will create the 65-foot-long bronze wall that will be a focal point of the project.

Edwin Fountain, vice chairman of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, said the goal is to break ground by Nov. 11, 2018, exactly 100 years after the fighting stopped.

But there are still hoops to jump through -- and millions of dollars to raise -- before construction can begin.

"This design has to be approved by four different agencies: three federal and one for the District of Columbia. And it has to go through a public historic preservation review process, and that, frankly, was something that we did not anticipate when we started this," Fountain said.

Originally, officials had hoped to complete the project in time for the anniversary.

The United States entered the war in April 1917, enabling England, France and their allies to defeat the nations aligned with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Millions of people died in the conflict, including 116,516 Americans.

Read more: WWI wall's crafters face hurdles; Arkansas native’s design scaled back

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