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World War I Centennial News


$200,000 giveaway to rescue ailing WW1 Memorials

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

In a program launched in July, 2016, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library have announced a $200,000 matching grant challenge offering awards for up to 100 local projects around the country.

100C 100M Logo smallKenneth Clarke, President and CEO of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library stated, "The words 'Lest We Forget' appear on World War I memorials across the nation. Sadly, however, many of these Memorials are in need of conservation and restoration, in this, their centennial year."

To get one of the matching grants, applicants need to A) identify local World War I memorials; B) put together a proposal for their memorial in distress; C) submit their project for consideration; D) raise local funds for a match of up to $2,000 per project.

The details of the program are found on the project website at ww1cc.org/100Memorials

The "100 CITIES / 100 MEMORIALS" program is particularly well-­suited for community-­service projects hosted by veteran group posts, historical/cultural/community organizations, faith groups, school programs, scout troops, local sports teams, and motivated citizens.

Dan Dayton, Executive Director of the US WWI Centennial Commission, commented: "The program is designed to foster a sense of heritage in local communities and to recognize local stories & people who were involved in the war. This $200,000 initiative also creates a way for community members to participate in the national World War I Centennial that begins in 2017".

To qualify for a matching grant, a project proposal needs to be submitted by November 11, 2016. Memorials need to be located in the 50 states or US territories, and the preservation work must be completed (or have been completed) between January 1, 2014 and November 11, 2018.

This veteran-honoring program has been endorsed and adopted via a national executive resolution of the American Legion, which itself was formed right after WWI.

World War I: When Wurst Came to Worst

By Gayle Jennifer Gavin
Senior Public Affairs Specialist, Library of Congress

Destroy this Mad Brute posterIn the United States, a century ago, there were more than 8 million citizens of German origin or with German ancestry – the largest single group among those of foreign birth or ancestry, but still less than 10 percent of the total U.S. population of over 102 million. Like other immigrant groups, they were scattered all over the country, with concentrations in many big cities, and like other immigrant groups, they “had their ups and downs” as they interacted with neighbors of different backgrounds.

One of the bigger “downs” followed the opening of World War I (the art of that war is the subject of a current Library of Congress exhibition). It was a German war of aggression, and much U.S. public sentiment turned against Germany and Germans, even as then-President Woodrow Wilson tried to keep the U.S. out of the war.

This reached a fever pitch with the German U-boat sinking of the British luxury liner “Lusitania,” causing the loss of 1,198 lives including those of 123 Americans. The public – both in England and the U.S. – was shocked that the German war machine would torpedo a passenger ship rather than sticking to warships or merchant-marine vessels.

When that sentiment turned, and particularly after the U.S. got into WWI, it suddenly became difficult to be German. Schools stopped offering classes in the language, once common. Music by German composers such as Mendelssohn and Wagner ceased to be performed. Many Americans with German surnames anglicized them. There were even efforts to rename foods of German origin – sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage,” for example.

Read more: World War I: When Wurst Came to Worst

Four Questions for author Patrick Gregory

• Tell us briefly about your book, and about the story of Arthur Kimber. Who was he?

An American on the Western Front is a narrative history written around the letters of a young US serviceman in WWI who carried the first official US Government flag to the Western Front in 1917.

An American on the Western Front coverThe letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, a student at Stanford University, allow us a unique glimpse of the war from an American perspective, chronicling the war as a young man lived it – and died in it – spanning the year and a half of America’s involvement from spring 1917 until autumn 1918.

The narrative anchors Kimber’s personal story within the overall political and military context of the war, the two running in parallel. But it is the first-hand account of his experiences of war in all its myriad forms – bravery and boredom, horror and fun, selflessness and everyday personal frictions – which form the driving force. A 21 and 22-year old growing up in the most unusual of theatres.

• What did the government flag mean to people of that time, and especially for that time juncture during the war?

The various ceremonies which Kimber took part in with the flag – where the flag was handed over in the San Francisco Civic Auditorium, paraded down Fifth Avenue in New York and then presented in front of cameras on the front in France – bear testimony to how significantly people regarded the event at the time.

Especially given President Wilson’s efforts up to this point in attempting to retain America’s neutrality, this symbol of the United States’ new readiness to engage in the war in France was a momentous event: a country stepping onto the global stage for the first real time as a political, diplomatic and military power.

• How did you find out about this remarkable story?

This is actually a family archive. My co-author in this, Elizabeth Nurser, is originally from California and Kimber was her uncle. Elizabeth – my mother-in-law – came to Britain as a Fulbright scholar in the 1950s and has remained here in the UK since. (I am a journalist, former managing editor of BBC Political Programmes).

Read more: Four Questions for author Patrick Gregory

Former U.S. Ambassador Tod Sedgwick sworn in as Commissioner

By Adam Bieniek and Kate Lyons
Staff Writers

Vineyard Haven, Mass. - Last month, Ambassador (Ret.) Tod Sedgwick was sworn-in as Commissioner to the United States World War One Centennial Commission. The event took place in Martha’s Vineyard, and he was sworn-in by Federal Judge Mark Wolf from Boston. He was appointed by President Obama, who announced his decision to post Ambassador Sedgwick as Commissioner on June 3rd, 2016.

Swearing in croppedAmbassador (Ret.) Sedgwick is sworn-in at Martha’s Vineyard as Commissioner to the U.S. World War One Centennial CommissionCommissioner Sedgwick expressed enthusiasm for his new role. “It's a great honor for me to be named to the World War I Commission. The "forgotten war" has numerous lessons for today's world - the failure of diplomacy which could have avoided a pointless war, the valor of the Americans who came into the war in 1917 and put the Allies over the top to victory, the terrible flaws of the post-war settlements which led to World War II and have left a trail of conflicts that continue to haunt us today, and the folly of American isolationism between the two world wars. It's vital that Americans commemorate this seminal conflict and absorb its lessons."

Theodore Sedgwick 220The new Commissioner previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic from 2010 to 2015.Commissioner Sedgwick previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic from 2010 to 2015. He is currently a Fellow at the Transatlantic Center at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Study and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, positions he has held since 2015. Prior to this he worked in the publishing, energy, and timber industries. He received his degree from Harvard College.

Commissioner Sedgwick comes from a family with a long history of service. His great-great-great-grandfather fought in the American Revolution, was a member of the Continental Congress, and served in the U.S. House and Senate. His ancestor, John Sedgwick, was the highest-ranking soldier killed in the Union Army during the Civil War. His uncle, William Ross Bond, was the only general killed in combat during the Vietnam War. His father, Ellery Sedgwick, Jr., was a naval intelligence officer during the infamous D-Day invasion of World War II.

The Commission is excited to welcome him as a new addition to our efforts, and looks forward to our future endeavors together during the centennial period.

Adam Bieniek and Kate Lyons are 2016 Summer Interns at the World War One Centennial Commission.

this is an opportunity for us to right a historical wrong

Mentor to the Stars: The WW1 officer who molded America's top WW2 generals

By David Zabecki
World War II Magazine

Major General Fox Conner, USAMajor General Fox Conner, USADecember 16, 1944, was a dangerous day for Allied forces in Europe. The Wehrmacht sprung one of the war’s largest strategic surprises when it launched two Panzer armies and an infantry army into the thin American defenses in the Ardennes Forest. The next day the U.S. Third Army commander, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, sat in his headquarters writing a letter to a retired major general living in New York’s Adirondack Mountains: “Yesterday morning the Germans attacked to my north in front of the VIII Corps of the First Army,” Patton told Fox Conner. “It reminds me much of [the German attack on] March 25, 1918, and I think it will have the same results.”

Though Patton misremembered the date—it was actually March 21, 1918—his prediction proved accurate. Like Operation Michael 26 years earlier, the Ardennes offensive was Germany’s desperate attempt to end the war with a single knockout punch. And like its predecessor, the offensive failed to reach its objective. On December 19, 1944, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered Patton to turn his Third Army 90 degrees on the battlefield and counterattack north, into the southern shoulder of the German penetration known as “The Bulge.” Seven days later, Patton’s troops pushed into Bastogne to relieve the encircled 101st Airborne Division.

Why did Patton spend time writing to an obscure old soldier, given the crisis? The answer is that more than anyone else, Conner was responsible for placing Patton and Eisenhower at that point in history. He was also influential to another important wartime figure: U.S. Army chief of staff General George C. Marshall. Although Conner retired from the army a year before World War II began, his mentorship of these senior American generals when they were young officers left an imprint on the battlefield—and made Major General Fox Conner a significant contributor to the Allied victory.

Today, the officer whom Eisenhower called “the ablest man I ever knew” remains a historical enigma. Conner wrote no memoirs and ordered all his papers and journals burned after his death. Only 28 letters survive. Most of what can be determined about Conner derives from the writings of his three famous World War II protégés and of his old boss, General of the Armies John J. Pershing, under whom Conner served in World War I in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). “I could have spared any man in the AEF better than you,” Pershing told Conner.

Read more: Mentor to the Stars: The Man Behind Eisenhower and Patton

Four Questions with Dr. Mark Levitch on World War 1 Memorial Restoration

By Kate Lyons
Staff Writer

Dr. Mark Levitch, an art historian at the National Gallery of Art, is the founder and president of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project. The Project's mission is to identify, document, preserve, and interpret the World War I memorials in the United States. He is partnering with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission on 100 Cities/100 Memorials.

Q: What is the best way for people to ID and find WWI memorials in their community?

levitch 300Dr. Mark Levitch, an art historian at the National Gallery of Art, is the founder and president of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project. He has partnered with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission on 100 Cities/100 Memorials.Some memorials can be found online, but many can’t – and hunting them down is half the fun. Community memorials are frequently situated in central locations, such as town greens or squares, or along a main street or major intersection. They are often found, too, at courthouses and town or city halls. Other popular locations include parks (especially memorial or veterans parks), American Legion or VFW posts, cemeteries, and schools and colleges. Churches and synagogues also frequently erected honor rolls, as did many large businesses and institutions. World War I also ushered in “living,” or functional, memorials—memorial stadiums, libraries, bridges, etc.—virtually all of which contain memorial plaques. I’m in the process of putting online (at ww1mproject.org) information about 3,000 or so memorials that I’ve located to date; if someone wants to check whether I’ve found one in their community, he/she/they can email me at wwi.inventory@gmail.com.

Q: If a group wants to do a simple cleanup or update, what are the top "do" and "don't do" things they should be aware of?

The most important thing to do is to leave any hands-on work to a professional conservator. Any attempt at “cleaning” a memorial—even a simple bronze plaque—can cause permanent damage. (The American Institute for Conservation maintains a list of qualified object conservators.) Non-professionals can focus on documenting a memorial photographically (with special attention to problem areas, such as cracks in stone, graffiti, or discolored plaques) and on cleaning up or beautifying the area around the memorial.

Read more: Four Questions with Dr. Mark Levitch on World War 1 Memorial Restoration

After 100 years some World War I battlefields are poisoned and uninhabitable

By Shelby Elphick

No war in recent memory can compare to the meat grinder of World War I. Europe still bears the scars of the war, even almost a century later. The gruesome and terrifying type of warfare typical of the Great War had a lasting impact on those who witnessed and experienced it. Danger Sign in French BattlefieldIt also created such carnage on the land where it was fought that some of those areas are still uninhabitable to this day.

The uninhabitable areas are known as the Zone Rouge (French for “Red Zone”). They remain pock-marked and scarred by the intense fighting at places like Verdun and the Somme, the two bloodiest battles of the conflict.

During the Battle of Verdun, which lasted over 300 days in 1916, more than 60 million artillery shells were fired by both sides – many containing poisonous gases. These massive bombardments and the brutal fighting inflicted horrifying casualties, over 600,000 at Verdun and over 1 million at the Somme. But the most dangerous remnants of these battles are the unexploded ordnance littering the battlefield.

Read more: After 100 years some World War I battlefields are poisoned and uninhabitable

Women Writers of World War I: an interview with Margaret R. Higonnet

The World War I Bridges web site recently published an interview with Margaret R. Higonnet, professor of English and Comparative Literature at University of Connecticut, Storrs, on the roles and accomplishments of women writers in World War 1. The starting point for the interview was Lines of Fire: Women Writers of World War I, a very rich book Higonnet published in 1999.

Q: What was your main purpose when you started writing Lines of Fire. Women Writers of World War I?

A (MRH): When I decided to edit a collection of women’s texts about World War I, I was motivated in good part by my desire to write about some of these works and share their power. In order to reach my audience, I needed to make a group of those texts available. women writers in WW1While certain major authors such as Virginia Woolf and Vera Brittain in England, or Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Katherine Anne Porter in America were readily available, even famous authors such as Colette or Anna Akhmatova were harder for an Anglophone audience to track down. At the time, little work had been done to reprint women’s writings about the Great War. Among feminist critics, Jane Marcus, Claire Tylee, and Nosheen Khan had focused on English and American writers. 

As a comparatist, I was eager to bring to light those who wrote in other languages. While I wanted to include better known writers, I also was eager to include new names. Luckily, I could use the old card catalogue at Harvard’s Widener library, and call up books from the deposit library that had not been read for decades--not since they were first bought by librarians or donated by Harvard alumni in the years following the war. One of my favorite finds was a small selection of wartime issues from Anna Kuliscioff’s La difesa delle lavoratrici, which was lying on metal shelving in Harvard’s Littauer library. It was the only copy mentioned in the Library of Congress World Cat bibliography. Articles had been snipped out, perhaps even before the paper was acquired by Harvard. There I found the typical mix of material published in a women’s journal: political articles and poems, as well as advertisements.

Part of my interest in the project arose from the question, “What is a war text?” When Jean Norton Cru wrote his famous overview, Témoins (1929), which weighed the veracity of war memoirs and fiction, it never occurred to him that women might have anything to say about the matter. “War” meant “combat.” The underlying issue was whether a civilian population (whether female or male, adult or child) encountering war right on their doorstep might have “authentic” (and significant) experiences to recount. Should the record of a “total” war include the dramatic changes in women’s labor that had been precipitated, whether on farms, in factories, or in medical units on hospital trains? As it happens, the Great War was marked by the institutionalization of women soldiers on the Eastern Front, but their record had been largely forgotten, since the Russian Revolution and postwar political upheavals had refocused attention on other historical events.

Read more: Women Writers of World War I: an interview with Margaret R. Higonnet

WWI flies into EAA airshow!

By Adam Bieniek, Kate Lyons, Mike Parks, and Jack Wood
Staff Writers

The 2016 edition of the annual Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has officially wrapped up. During its week-long run, from July 22nd through the 30th, the air show featured nearly 10,000 airplanes and hosted 891 exhibitors. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission was there, as a participant, telling the story of World War I.

Edwin interview 1000Commissioner Vice Chair Edwin Fountain talks with the media in front of two World War I-era fighter planes.Commissioner Edwin Fountain and Commissioner Libby O’Connell helped the effort. Throughout the week, Commissioner Fountain was interviewed by several local media outlets, EAA radio, and two German aviation reporters from the FLYING WINGS magazine and Bayerische-Flugzeug blog site.

The Commissioner was also able to reach out to the thousands of EAA followers on social media when he was featured on a live-to-Facebook interview by EAA Social Media.

In addition to the Commissioners, several staff were also in attendance at the air show. Three volunteers from Hampden-Sydney College sold WW1CC tee shirts and gave out free stickers, while WW1CC staffers helped raise awareness in other ways.

Reenactors 1000WW1 reenactors and historians were present in full force at Oshkosh, ready to bring the Great War alive for the energetic crowds.Roger Fisk, Chief Development Officer of the Commission, was interviewed by local news outlets, and even featured on the event’s jumbotron at the Main Announcer Stand. Fisk adds, “Our team met people from museums, aviation clubs, and veteran groups while there for the show, as well as historical re-enactors, gearheads, pilots, collectors, and plenty of active military.”

By the end of the week nearly 561,000 people attended the air show, one of the biggest turnouts in over ten years, according to EAA. Thanks to the organization’s tireless efforts, the hundreds of thousands of attendees were able to witness history come to life in Oshkosh.


Read more: WWI flies into EAA airshow!

The Olympics, 100 Years Ago and Today

By Kate Lyons
Staff Writer

This summer, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 206 nations will come together to compete in the Olympics. While we begin to celebrate this event, it is also important to look back on its rich history. Listed below are a few highlights of what was happening with the Olympics just one century ago.

1. Exactly 100 years ago, the Olympics were canceled due to World War I.

Ever since the formation of the modern Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee has stressed that it “is committed to building a better world through sport.” However, the Olympics became a bit of an unfeasible challenge in 1916, due to the fact that most of the world was at war. So the 1916 Olympics that were planned for Berlin would go on to host 206 fewer nations than 2016’s Rio Olympics.

2. Several countries were not invited to participate in the 1920 Olympics.

In 1920, two years after fighting ended, the Olympics finally resumed. However, the world was still in the long process of recovering from the physical destruction and millions of casualties that had resulted from World War I. Only 29 nations would compete in the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp, Belgium. Many of the countries that lost the war, and who were blamed for the war’s outbreak, were not invited to participate in these Games. This list included Austria, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. Russia, which was going through a Communist revolution and in the process of becoming the Soviet Union, also did not attend. Germany continued to be uninvited from competing in any Olympics until 1925.patton in 1912 olympicsGeneral George S. Patton (right) fencing during the Modern Pentathlon event at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

3. The 1920 Olympics were hosted in Belgium to honor the country’s great suffering during the War.

The decision to host the 1920 Olympics in Belgium was made to honor the country’s great suffering it endured as a result of German occupation throughout World War I, during which at least 117,500 Belgian soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded.

4. The original Olympic flag was stolen by an athlete during its first Olympics in 1920.

The famous Olympic flag with five multicolored rings was first used at the 1920 Olympics in Belgium, and has remained the symbol of the Olympics ever since. In fact, the first Olympic flag was stolen towards the end of the Games by an American medalist. On a dare from one of his fellow divers, Olympian Hal Haig Prieste climbed up the flagpole and took the Olympic flag, which he kept hidden in his suitcase for decades after. He revealed the story in a 1997 interview, and returned the flag to the Olympic Committee during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The flag is currently displayed at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Read more: The Olympics, 100 Years Ago and Today

The Coca-Cola Foundation awards major grant to 369th Experience Project

Coca Cola 369th

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

The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded a grant of $200,000 to go towards the 369th Experience. This program, sponsored by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, and led by Executive Producer Stephany Neal, is designed to honor the 369th Infantry Regiment, and their famous musical ensemble, with a slate of public performances and art exhibitions during the centennial period of World War I.

The 369th Experience will bring the music and art of the era into the 21st Century, and tell modern audiences about the experiences of African-Americans during the turn of the 20th Century.

During World War I, the U.S. Army was racially segregated, and the 369th Infantry Regiment was made up of African-American soldiers. Overcoming racial prejudice at many levels, the unit served in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I, and earned the nickname ‘Harlem Hellfighters’. Their soldiers earned 171 Croix de Guerre medals and Legions of Honor awards from the French government, making them one of the highest-decorated units of the American Expeditionary Force.

Read more: The Coca-Cola Foundation awards major grant to the 369th Experience Project

Black Tom Island: Germany secretly attacks U.S. during WWI

By Adam Bieniek and Kate Lyons
Staff Writers

One hundred years ago, on July 30th, 1916, New York City was rocked by one of the largest explosions in history. On this night, two million pounds of explosives ignited simultaneously, reducing the great munitions depot on Black Tom Island to rubble. The horrors of World War I had arrived in the United States before the country would officially enter the War. Even worse, the nation would not realize for another twenty-three years that the explosions were an act of terrorism carried out by foreign enemies on U.S. soil.

Black Tom PierThe aftermath of the attack. The first explosions were aboard Johnson Barge 17. By the end of the night, two million pounds of explosives would reduce Black Tom Island to practically nothing. Two years prior to this explosive act of terrorism, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a declaration of neutrality to Congress on August 4, 1914. He reassured Americans that, “The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action.” The War that had recently broken out in Europe was a world away, far out of range of posing an immediate threat to the United States. However due to the United States’ large and growing immigrant population, the conflict that was spreading across Europe posed a threat to peace, and risked causing tensions among different nationalities that had immigrated to the U.S. While the nations in Europe battled each other into submission, the United States sat by patiently and securely, washing its hands of the carnage that had torn the world in two.

Read more: Black Tom Island: Germany Secretly Attacks U.S. During WWI

Camp Sherman dig in Ohio reveals WW1 surprises

Chris Balusik
Chillicothe Gazette

CHILLICOTHE - Andy Sewell's voice grew a little more animated when he approached a large concrete pit on the southwestern corner of a Camp Sherman archaeological dig off Ohio 104.

Camp Sherman digThomas Grooms, Archaeology Transportation Reviews Manager at Ohio History Connection, left, and Andy Sewell, principal investigator, talk about what has been found at one of the Camp Sherman excavation sites."This is one of the buildings we don't have any floor plans for," said Sewell, principal investigator on the project for Lawhon & Associates. "Finding something like this was a complete surprise, and trying to understand what it was took a little while. Because why would you have a cellar like this?"

It appears to have been was a fire station for the World War I-era training camp that once dominated the landscape along Ohio 104 just north of the city. Making his way past the concrete pit to another part of the excavation of the structure, Sewell was able to point out piping that appears to have belonged to the lavatory for the fire crew, the location where it was likely the crew's quarters once were and a water pipe running into the facility from elsewhere in the camp.

The excavation work has been going on for nearly a month as part of a task order from the Ohio Department of Transportation to retrieve whatever items from the portion of the camp that existed where an extension of Industrial Drive is scheduled to go. The extension is part of an effort by the Community Improvement Corporation to expand development opportunities within the industrial park off Ohio 104.

Read more: Camp Sherman dig reveals surprises

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