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World War I Centennial News



Foundations & Legacy: General John J. Pershing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Alabama teen became America’s first WWI hero

By Kelly Kazek
via the AL.com (Alabama) web site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Brian Wallheimer
via the University of Notre Dame web site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

via the Only In Your State (WV) web site

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

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

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

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

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


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

By David Welna
via the WAMU National Public Radio web site

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

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

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

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

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

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



Our Forgotten Heroes: Why don’t we talk about WWI? 

By Jessica Manfre
via the We Are the Mighty web site

During the "Great War", the United States of America lost over 116,000 of her troops in a span of only 19 months. While initially remaining neutral and refusing to enter into World War I when it began in 1914, that changed after repeated attacks on America's ships. In 1917 the U.S. entered into the fray, declaring war against Germany.

It can be argued that without American's force beside the allies, the war wouldn't have ended in victory, but a stalemate. History has documented this impressive and vital piece of our story. So why don't we talk about it and those incredible heroes that turned the tide for an entire world in the name of democracy?

Why don't we discuss how more Marines were killed or wounded in the battle of Belleau Wood than their service's entire history at that point? That battle alone claimed over 10,000 American casualties in just three weeks. It should also be known that France refused to enter into this particular battle because they felt it was too dangerous. Instead, they insisted that the Americans do it.

We did, but it came at an extremely heavy cost.

In September of 1918, 1.2 million American troops entered into the deadliest battle in its history. Many were undertrained and not yet battle-tested – but their sheer numbers and grit did what other armies could not in four years. It was an incredible offensive effort as the Expeditionary Forces of the United States actually caught Germany completely by surprise with their attack.

America's troops took an area that had been held for four years in just two short days. This battle ended the war, but America lost 26,277 of their own to win it. We also had 192,000 casualties. It was this specific battle at Meuse-Argonne, or The Battle of Argonne Forest, that pushed Germany into literally pleading for an end of World War I. America brought Germany to its knees.

Read more: Our Forgotten Heroes: Why don’t we talk about World War I?


636427278902358443 WC1 Group shot wideAfrican American officers graduate with World War I commissions, Fort Des Moines, Iowa, ​1917 

The Legacy of the WW 1 Ft. Des Moines Black Officers Training Camps 

By Hal Chase
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

African-Americans have struggled for their inalienable rights for the past 400 years of our nation’s history as the recent New York Times 1619 Project makes painfully clear. One of the most overlooked and neglected stories of their struggle was embodied by the 2,369 Black men who volunteered for training in the two Black Officers Training Camps at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa from June to November, 1917.

The first camp (BOTC) involved 1,250 candidates who competed for commissions as Captains, 1st and 2nd Lieutenants in the 92nd & 93rd Divisions on the Western Front in France. The second camp (MOTC) involved 119 candidates, most of whom were medical doctors as well as some 14 dentists and 1,000 “ hospital orderlies.”

The BOTC opened June 15,1917 and commissioned 639 officers on October 15, 1917. The MOTC began in July and commissioned 104 doctors/dentists as Captains in November. Black officers had served in the American Revolution through the Spanish-American War, but the World War 1 Ft. Des Moines Black Officers Training Camps were the first in our nation’s history sponsored by our federal government and the officer candidates perceived themselves as the vanguard of their race that would forge a new future.

Read more: The Legacy of the WWI Ft. Des Moines Black Officers Training Camps


201909XX Joseph Ward GraveDSC04605Research by Legionnaire Leon Bates led to a state historical marker commemorating the achievements of World War I veteran Maj. Joseph Ward (top left). Photo by Matt Grills 

Lt. Col. Joseph H. Ward: Doctor, surgeon, soldier

By Leon E. Bates
via the American Legion web site

Genealogists say the most important thing on a headstone is the dash between the date of birth and date of death, for that dash represents the life lived.

At the top of a gentle rise in Indianapolis’ 550-acre Crown Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of Lt. Col. Joseph H. Ward (1872-1956), an African American surgeon, hospital administrator and World War I veteran. Like most military markers, Ward’s offers few clues to his dash – his many accomplishments, in and out of uniform.

I first came across Ward’s name while doing research before returning to college, and came to appreciate his legacy while doing additional dissertation research. I learned that Ward established and operated a hospital for black patients when they were barred from treatment elsewhere. Digging further, I discovered he was a medical trailblazer and early American Legion member whose achievements – decades before the civil-rights movement – have been largely forgotten.

EARLY YEARS Ward was a first-generation freedman, born near Wilson, N.C., on the same plantation where his mother, Mittie, grew up enslaved. His maternal grandfather, David G. Ward, a physician, owned the plantation. However, his grandfather took no interest in young Joseph or his education.

As a teenager, Ward left North Carolina and lived in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area before settling in Indianapolis. There, he lived with and worked for Dr. George Hasty, one of the founders of the Physio-Medical College of Indiana and editor of the Physio-Medical Journal. Hasty saw to it that Ward completed his education – eighth grade, followed by three years at Indianapolis High School (later Shortridge High School, class of 1894) and the Physio-Medical College of Indiana in 1897.

Read more: Lt. Col. Joseph H. Ward: Doctor, surgeon, soldier


Construction update collage 01302020A collage of photos showing the Phase I construction work currently underway at the site of the new National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC.   A construction fence now surrounds the site.

Phase I construction work underway at site of new National WWI Memorial

By Patrice Ford
Communications Manager, Grunley Construction Company, Inc.

Work is underway at the site of the new National WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. project! The Grunley Construction Company Project Team is currently tagging and documenting the existing conditions of every stone in the park to determine which are salvageable and which need to be replaced.

Salvageable stones will be stored offsite while the underground utilities and new structural work takes place, then reset in their original positions.

Land Collective, the landscape designer for the memorial, will be identifying and tagging trees to ensure that the appropriate ones are available for re-use when trees will be planted later this year.




The Hello Girls musical returns for one-night-only concert in NYC February 26

Prospect Theater Company's original Off-Broadway cast is reuniting for a special, one-night-only concert reading of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated original musical The Hello Girls in New York on February 26.

The special event takes place at 7:30 pm in the Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway @ 95th St. in Manhattan.  Tickets are available now.

Featuring a critically-acclaimed score, The Hello Girls tells the story of the groundbreaking women who served as the first soldiers in the U.S. Army, during World War I. Prospect Theater Company's original Off-Broadway cast re-unites for this special, one-night-only concert reading of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated original musical! 

From New York to Paris, from ragtime to jazz — an ensemble of actor-musicians chronicles the story of America's first women soldiers. These intrepid heroines served as bi-lingual telephone operators on the front lines, helping turn the tide of World War I. They then returned home to fight a decades-long battle for equality and recognition, paving the way for future generations.

Read more: The Hello Girls musical returns for one-night-only concert in NYC February 26


IMG 0026Students from Washington Court House, (Ohio) meet with community leaders at an African American Cemetery with a World War I soldier's headstone. 

Teaching more than the Harlem Hellfighters; Black History Month, World War I, and the Classroom

By Paul LaRue
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site

February is Black History Month. This provides teachers an important opportunity to highlight diversity too often overlooked in classrooms. World War I content can assist in teaching diversity with lesson plans that highlight the service, sacrifice and heartbreak of African American World War I soldiers and sailors.

Paul LaRue tightPaul LaRueAbout the title: please do not think the heroic service of the Harlem Hellfighters should not be celebrated and taught. What I am saying is – as a thirty-year classroom history teacher, students need and deserve more classroom exposure than a couple of paragraphs in a traditional textbook. I believe the same concept applies to the Civil War service of the Massachusetts 54th and the World War II service of the Tuskegee Airmen. The bravery of these soldiers and their incredible service is not in question.

I do, however, worry students leave American History thinking only a small select group of African Americans served. The African American military experience is as diverse as the other men and women that served. I also question if racism, institutional bias, and African American military service are explored in a genuine way with students. African American military service cannot be explored without these painful discussions.

The World War I Centennial has helped spur both interest and the creation of new African American World War I classroom content. What should a student know about African American World War I service?

Here is African American World War I Service by the numbers:

Read more: Teaching more than the Harlem Hellfighters; Black History Month, World War I, and the Classroom


memorial 1View of the planned new National World War I Memorial looking west toward the monumental bronze sculpture. The new memorial is now in Phase I of the construction process.

Pershing Park: The Evolution Of A Modernist Memorial

By David Rubin
via the David Rubin Land Collective web site

Landscapes are extraordinary, if only for their dynamism – an ever-changing marriage of static and living systems. They’re also reflections of our culture – truly political constructs describing the values of our society. Landscapes present a living canvas of pentimenti expressing both the site’s history and our own changing cultural values as time moves forward.

Historically-significant landscapes require a nuanced approach to managing change, one that is respectful of the past, but that lifts the bell jar, so that history can be made accessible to twenty-first century society. Such is the case with our work on Pershing Park in Washington, D.C., revivifying a modernist construct redefined as a national memorial and a welcoming place of urban respite. 

New Year / New Memorial

DAVID RUBIN Land Collective is celebrating 2020 with the commencement of construction of the National World War I Memorial. On December 12, 2014, the United States Congress redefined the entirety of Pershing Park, so named for the conflict’s formidable leader, General John J. Pershing, as the National World War I Memorial. Pershing Park, located in the monumental core of the nation’s capital at the terminus of Pennsylvania Avenue proximate to the White House, is a modernist construct by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg.

The expanded commemorative composition no longer focuses solely upon a monumental figure. Rather, in expression throughout the park, the memorial will shift from singular recognition to a broader, more inclusive acknowledgement of sacrifice and the United States’ role in this global conflict.

Read more: Pershing Park: The Evolution Of A Modernist Memorial


g06385Sailors reading, writing and relaxing at the Red Cross Rest Room in New Orleans. Around 400,000 African Americans served in World War I.  

World War I Planted the Seeds of the Civil Rights Movement 

By Anna Diamond
via the smithsonianmag.com web site

n early April 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress seeking to enter the United States in the first World War, he urged the “world must be made safe for democracy.” A. Philip Randolph, the co-founder of the African-American magazine The Messenger, would later retort in its pages, “We would rather make Georgia safe for the Negro.”

The debate over democracy, and who it served in the U.S., was central to the black experience during the Great War. African Americans were expected to go abroad to fight, even though they were denied access to democracy, treated as second-class citizens and subjected to constant aggression and violence at home.

Randolph was at odds with other leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois, who saw the war as an opportunity for African Americans to demonstrate their patriotism and who expected they’d be better treated after their return home. Writing in the NAACP’s magazine The Crisis, Du Bois called on African Americans to “forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy.”

This tension frames the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new exhibition, “We Return Fighting: World War I and the Shaping of Modern Black Identity.” Focusing on both soldiers and civilians, the expansive show explores the experiences and sacrifices of African Americans during the war, and how their struggles for civil rights intensified in its aftermath. “World War I was a transformative event for the world,” says guest curator Krewasky Salter, who organized the show, “but it was also a transformative experience for African Americans.”

Read more: World War I Planted the Seeds of the Civil Rights Movement

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