African American Soldiers 1 pilots in dress uniforms gas masks The pilots doughboys with mules African American Officers Mule Rearing Riveters

World War I Centennial News


There’s No First World War Memorial on the National Mall?

The sculptor Sabin Howard is jumping through hoops to right an art-historical wrong

By Anna Russell
via The New Yorker Magazine web site

On a recent Tuesday, Sabin Howard, the figurative sculptor, was preparing for one of the first public viewings of a planned national memorial to the First World War. He had driven from his studio, in the Bronx, to the New York Academy of Art, his alma mater, in Tribeca. At the curb, he opened the doors of his van to reveal a ten-foot scale model of a fifty-seven-foot bronze tableau: a narrative meditation on the Great War, to be installed in a few years near the White House, not far from the tributes to the Second World War and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. He carried the model inside in three heavy pieces. “Sorry it’s not bigger,” he said.

Howard at National ArchivesSabin HowardIn 2016, Howard and his collaborator, Joe Weishaar, were named the winners of a competition, created by an act of Congress, to design a national monument to the First World War. Surprisingly, it would be the capital’s first. Washington’s war memorials were not created in chronological order; they grew organically, out of need, like footpaths in an open field. It started with Vietnam. “Vietnam veterans always had this feeling of not having a parade, not being memorialized,” Chris Isleib, the director of public affairs for the United States World War One Centennial Commission, said. “So they lobbied, thankfully.”

New Yorker Magazine LogoIsleib’s commission wanted a First World War memorial on the Mall, too, but, after vets mobilized to get monuments to the Korean War and the Second World War, Congress passed the Commemorative Works Act, which, Isleib said, “basically declared the National Mall a completed work of art.” By then, veterans of America’s first global war were disappearing. (The last, Frank Buckles, died in 2011.) In 2014, the First World War was given Pershing Park, a run-down slice of green adjacent to the Mall, near the Willard Hotel. “The pedestrian traffic there is really great,” Isleib said, optimistically.

In a room on the Academy’s first floor, Howard set down the pieces and a large wooden pedestal. He is soft-spoken, and had on jeans, a fleece jacket, and hiking boots. He had brought with him two assistants, Paul Emile and Zach Libresco, both in hooded sweatshirts, who had posed for the sculpture and were helping to set it up. “I did twelve iterations before I got to this one,” Howard said. The Centennial Commission includes a dozen lawyers, academics, and retired military officers. “Meeting after meeting, I’d bring my work, and they’d criticize it,” Howard said. “The initial idea was a story, a long relief, but the story line kept changing. I would ask, ‘Well, what do you want?’ And they’d say, ‘We’ll know it when we see it.’ ”

He started pulling photographs out of a cardboard box on the floor. The memorial’s central narrative involves a father who leaves his family, goes to war, and returns home changed. “I realized, Oh, my God, this is like Joseph Campbell’s ‘the hero’s journey,’ ” Howard said. “It’s a very simple story that everybody in every single culture has experienced.” Figures in the sculpture go blind, suffer from P.T.S.D., and fall in battle.

Howard found genuine First World War uniforms online and photographed actors posing in them. He used 3-D scanners to make mockups. “Actually”—he paused at an image of two soldiers draped over each other, gruesomely—“here’s Paul and Zach.” He turned to them: “Hey, guys, here you are, dead.” 

Read more: There’s No First World War Memorial on the National Mall?

WWI Symposium at US Army History and Education Center 

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

Poster conferenceBetsy Anderson is the WW1CC's Volunteer Coordinator, and she manages the contributions from our various friends, who help us with event planning, social media writing, photography, partnerships, and administrative issues. Betsy recently had the pleasure of representing our Centennial Commission at a WWI Symposium sponsored by the Pennsylvania WWI Centennial Committee at the US Army History and Education Center in Carlisle, PA. We were thrilled that she was able take a few moments to share her experiences with us.

You just returned from a great WWI symposium in Carlisle PA. Tell us about the overall event.

Anderson mugBetsy AndersonThe all-volunteer Pennsylvania World War I Centennial Committee organized the day long symposium, featuring Pennsylvania historians and authors who have made in-depth studies of World War I topics. The U.S. Army History and Education Center was an ideal location - it is currently running an exhibit "Goodbye Broadway, Hello France" with age specific educational materials for students.

The event had some huge sponsors -- the US Army History & Education Center, the Pennsylvania Centennial Committee -- and some major name historians. What specific topics were covered, and what did you learn?

The Eddystone Rifle, the deployment of the National Guard, the Hog Island Shipyards in Philly, and the Contributions of Women and Civilians to the war - who could resist such a broad menu of topics? Kurt Sellers brought an Eddystone and a Mauser rifle for comparison of the features that made the Eddystone such a potent weapon.

I was fascinated to learn that a large quantity of black walnut was needed to manufacture the rifle, and the government requisitioned trees from all over the country. In both rifle manufacturing and shipbuilding, women made up about 20 per cent of the workforce. John Shepherd reviewed the deployment of the National Guard and explained how the 1903 Dick Act set the parameters for how the National Guard worked with the Army during the war. Since my father was a career member of the National Guard, I understood a lot more about the relationship between the Guard and Army after listening to John.

Read more: WWI Symposium at US Army History and Education Center

Private Henry Johnson fought for his life with a knife May 15, 1918

By Col. Richard Goldenberg
New York National Guard, via the web site

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- He was 26 years old, 5-foot-4, weighed 130 pounds and came from Albany, New York.

Henry JohnsonHenry JohnsonAnd on the night of May 15, 1918, Pvt. Henry Johnson, a member of the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment, found himself fighting for his life against 20 German Soldiers out in front of his unit's trench line.

He fired the three rounds in his French-made rifle, tossed all his hand grenades and then grabbed his Army-issue bolo knife and started stabbing. He buried the knife in the head of one attacker and then disemboweled another German soldier.

"Each slash meant something, believe me," Johnson said later. "There wasn't anything so fine about it," he said. "Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that."

By the time what a reporter called "The Battle of Henry Johnson" was over, Johnson had been wounded 21 times and become the first American hero of World War I.

Johnson posterDepiction of Henry Johnson's exploits, painted 100 years ago.Johnson's actions during the night of May 15, 1918 brought attention to the African American Doughboys of the unit, the New York National Guard's former 15th Infantry, redesignated the 369th for wartime service.

The 369th Infantry, detached under French command, arrived on the front line trenches in the Champagne region on April 15, 1918.

They were relieved to be free of supply and service tasks of past months and ready to join the fight, now under the command of the French Fourth Army.

The American Expeditionary Forces detached the all-black regiment to bolster an ally and preserve racial segregation in the American command.

The French were less concerned about racial inequality, and welcomed the African American regiment that would earn its nickname as the Hellfighters from Harlem.

The regiment's first battle would otherwise be a footnote in WWI history, fought by only two Soldiers, were it not for the scrutiny the all-black regiment faced at the time.

Read more: NY National Guardsman Henry Johnson, fought for his life with a knife on May 15, 1918

"LaFayette U.S. voilà!" Conference hosted at the Sorbonne in Paris 

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

The French Society of Cincinnati and the Sorbonne University organized an international history conference in recognition of the U.S. entry into World War I, "LaFayette U.S. voilà!: The American Engagement in France, 1917-1918". The event took place in November 23-25, 2017, in Paris.

The symposium producers plan to publish the conference proceedings in the French language in October, via the Presses of the Sorbonne. The proceedings will be published a few months later in the English language, with a university in the United States.

The event was produced under the supervision of Ambassador Bernard de Montferrand, President of the French Society of Cincinnati, as well as noted French historians, Professors Olivier Chaline and Olivier Forcade.

The purpose of the conference was to discuss the significance of the U.S. entry into World War One and how the this contributed to reviving the old friendship between France and America.

The conference opened at the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée which celebrated its first centenary. Originally founded in 1918, the union allowed allied officers to meet in Paris. Two hundred and fifty people attended and were honored by President General Jonathan Woods. Hubert Védrine, former French minister of foreign affairs, and Brent Hardt, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy.

The honored guests explained the political and historical importance of the U.S. involvement in France during WWI. Prof. André Kaspi (emeritus, Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne) gave a keynote speech entitled, “The Main Issues of the American Engagement in France, 1917-1918”.

Read more: "LaFayette U.S. voilà!" Conference hosted at the Sorbonne in Paris

IMG 7953

WWI Centennial Commission to be represented in 2018 National Memorial Day Parade

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

The National Memorial Day Parade is coming up -- Monday, 28 May in Washington DC.

It will be a great day. The parade is huge -- marching bands, flags, celebrities, veterans from all ages, 300,000 cheering visitors, and TV cameras that will broadcast the parade across the country.

This year, the parade will feature a special tribute to the American veterans of World War I. This tribute will include several World War I-era military & support vehicles -- and a parade float with the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission's volunteers, staff, Commissioners, and supporters.

The parade is broadcast live to over 100 affiliate TV stations around the entire U.S., and will also be live-streamed via, among other online outlets.

This parade is our nation’s largest Memorial Day event, drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators to the National Mall to pay tribute to those who have served. The parade, commemorating its fourteenth year, will be a great chance to honor our veterans, and to tell the story of the men & women who gave us much 100 years ago.

Read more: Centennial Commission to be represented in 2018 National Memorial Day Parade

James Reese Europe Concert Event in NYC 

By Betsy Sheppard
Staff Writer, United States World War One Centennial Commission

NY Jazzharmonic trad jazz sextet photo credit Mihyun Kang copyNY Jazzharmonic, the musical ensemble that will be performing the tribute to James Reese Europe on June 8th at the Symphony Space NYC. Ron Wasserman is second from right.In 1918, James Reese Europe took the Harlem Hellfighter's band to France as part of the Allied Expeditionary forces, introducing jazz to the continent. In the next few weeks, New York City will play host to a couple of amazing tributes to this famous 369th Harlem Hellfighters Regimental Jazz Band. One of these two remarkable shows will be the James Reese Europe Memorial Concert on June 8th at Symphony Space NY. This tribute event is co-sponsored by the New York Jazzharmonic, the New York Veterans Alliance, and the National WWI Centennial Commission. We talked to Mr. Ron Wasserman, principal bassist for the NY City Ballet and founder of the New York Jazzharmonic and its Traditional Jazz Sextet, to hear more about the show, and about the origins of the music that they will play.

How did you become involved in the James Reese Europe Memorial Concert?

I became involved after I put a few JRE tunes on my recent CD. All of a sudden people thought of me as an expert. I realized that he needed attention. Then, my cousin, Edwin Fountain, of the WWI Centennial commission suggested I do some kind of event, and here we are.

What effect do you hope this event will have on the public viewers?

I hope that it will serve as a much needed public honor for the great man, especially since this is the 100th anniversary of him going to the War.

Read more: James Reese Europe Concert Event in NYC

A Unique Voice — Keeping Faith in Troubled Times 

By Jackie Savage
Epiphany Chapel & Church House, Odenton MD

On June 3, 2018 the public is invited to an outdoor concert and dedication of a WWI Centennial Monument with keynote speaker, Diane Rehm.

Roche Epiphany Church 1The event includes WWI music by The Maryland Military Band and an opportunity to discover online information about family members who served in WWI. Diane Rehm, whose own father was deployed through Camp Meade to the trenches of WWI, will address the crowd—“Keeping Faith in Troubled Times.”

The Diane Rehm Show was distributed nationally and internationally by National Public Radio until her retirement in December, 2016. She now hosts a weekly podcast, On My Mind (NPR). Rehm has been the recipient of the Peabody Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award. Her father, Wadie S. Aed, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mersin, Turkey, enlisted and served in France with the United States Army, Camp Meade Detachment 147th Infantry 37th Division at the age of twenty-two.

In 1918 the Chapel was a home-away-from-home for soldiers and included “reinforcements to the Chaplains of the colored regiments.” Second-floor rooms provided overnight accommodations. The Chapel is a National Register Historic Site featuring a Chaplains’ Peace Garden with bronze plaques naming 2,929 WWI chaplains among them 24 rabbis and 108 African Americans. The museum is staged as in 1918 with bunk beds, original posters, victrola, trench art, uniforms, and items of everyday life and culture during WWI.

Read more: A Unique Voice — Keeping Faith in Troubled Times

Annual 'In Flanders Fields' Memorial Commemorative Event in NYC 

By Nick Polet
Flanders House, NYC

The Government of Flanders, Belgium will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War with many special events during the period 2014-2018.

unnamed 125On the occasion of Memorial Day, and to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice "In Flanders Fields" during World War I, Mr. Geert De Proost, General Delegate of the Government of Flanders to the USA, will be hosting the Annual In 'Flanders Fields' Memorial event on May 24, 10am, featuring the East Coast Doughboys Honor Guard.

The event will be followed by a reception at The Press Lounge located at Ink48, 653 11th Avenue (between 47th & 48th Street).

The event is free, and open to the public.

Read more: Annual 'In Flanders Fields' Memorial Commemorative Event in NYC

Successful Historical Awareness Programs from the Junior Master Gardener Program 

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

Our friends at the Junior Master Gardener Program have been making amazing inroads in the teaching of young people about history, and toward the honoring of our nation''s veterans. They have integrated these seemingly separate topics onto the world of gardening for their young members, with remarkable results. We wanted to find out how they succeeded with this special effort, so we spoke to Lisa Whittlesey, Program Director of the Junior Master Gardener Program, to hear more.

The Junior Master Gardener Program has been making great strides in honoring our veterans -- and teaching people about World War I. Tell us about your various activities -- the poppy seed sales, the Teaching History Through Gardening, the lessons in how to grow poppies -- and why, etc.

Lisa 768x1024Lisa WhittleseyThe JMG program is proud to be working with the WW1 Centennial to honor veterans. For many children, they may not be familiar with WW1, so this project has been an opportunity to educate children on the historical significance of this war. Through this project we have shared opportunity for groups to sell poppy to support the building of the WW1 Memorial, while also raising funds to support gardening in their local schools and community.

Additionally, we have pulled together resources that teachers and youth leaders can utilize when teaching about WW1, significance of poppies, but more importantly how kids can be involved with honoring veterans in their local communities.

Recently we shared the poppy project with our friends at They had a feature article about the poppy sale fundraising program, historical gardens and other resources that youth educators could use to support local youth gardening programs in their May 2018 newsletter. This is a timely resource as many families and groups can use this for Memorial Day activities and events.

"Teaching History Through Gardening" is very innovative. How does that program work? Do you teach several different historical periods this way? What do the gardeners learn?

Gardening is something that is so naturally rooted in history. Colonists planted gardens for food but also to provide a sense of familiarity for their native culture. Many cultures have distinct plants, food crops and gardening techniques that can be taught through the garden. Through the JMG program we try to connect historical connections through sharing about Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Carver, Norman Borlaug, and others that have made a significant impact through their gardening and agricultural research.

How have your young people responded to these programs? What feedback have they provided?

The JMG website and social media channels are a way for local groups and youth to share their experiences. We encourage groups to post and share experiences that they have had in the local community with their JMG programs.

Read more: Successful Historical Awareness Programs from the Junior Master Gardener Program

Lost WWI medal returned to veteran's family in NJ

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

A military mystery in Wanaque NJ, dating back more than a hundred years, has finally been solved.

636614155987742618 IMG 5398Tom Luciani and Janice Sannick discuss their cousin, Dan Battaglia, who was a World War I veteran and Wanaque resident. Police presented them with a medal that was found on the side of a road belonging to Battaglia. (Photo: Jai Agnish/ in Wanaque, New Jersey have been working to return a lost medal from 1917, given to World War One veteran Dan Battaglia. The medal had been unearthed in a wooded area.

Battaglia was a bachelor with no kids, so police officers spent weeks digging into records and combing social media to try and find any relatives. As it turns out, his family was still living in the Wanaque area.

“It brought back memories,” relative Janice Sannik said. “We used to have him over for the holidays and, you know, the family was together.”

“All our policemen, they do a great job in this town,” relative Tom Luciani said. “We’re proud of them.”

Battaglia is a common family name, and 100-year-old records are hard to come by. For more than a month, local police had been assembling information to locate any remaining relative of the WWI veteran.

The Centennial Commission brought the case forward to our Special Advisor, Sergeant Major Bryan Battaglia, USMC-Retired, former Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sergeant Major Battaglia is not a known relative but he personally offered to safeguard the medal, if direct family members were not found.

Read more: Lost WWI medal returned to veteran's family in NJ

"Black Jack Pershing: Love and War" WWI documentary screening at National Archives May 24

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

may 24 pershingThe new World War I documentary film "Black Jack Pershing: Love and War" will have a free screening at the National Archives in Washington, DC on May 24.

Incorporating hundreds of U.S. Army Signal Corps photographs and films from the National Archives, Black Jack Pershing: Love and War (2017; 60 minutes) examines the life of Gen. John J. Pershing.

The screening will be introduced by producer Bernard R. McCoy. The screening is presented in partnership with the United States WWI Centennial Commission

Pershing, our nation’s highest-ranking officer, commanded 2 million U.S. troops that helped win World War I. Behind his iron exterior stood a man who also endured great personal tragedy and heartbreak.

This award-winning documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” tells the story of World War I General John J. Pershing’s life and the personal tragedy so painful Pershing could never speak of it.

When America entered WWI in April of 1917 its military was hardly prepared for war. There were roughly 220,000 U.S. soldiers and officers. America’s troops initially lacked the training needed to effectively fight a veteran German army that used modern warfare tactics.

Germany’s high-powered artillery, poison gas, machine guns, fortified defensive positions and fighter planes exacted a heavy toll on U.S. troops. The Americans fought German troops with French, British, Canadian, Australian and other allied forces in deadly combat along 400 miles that comprised the Western Front.

General John J. Pershing was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to command the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. His nickname was “Black Jack.”

Read more: "Black Jack Pershing: Love and War" WWI documentary screening at National Archives May 24

Guest Opinion in the New York Times

Dear Mom, the War’s Going Great 

By Mitchell Yockelson
Member, Historical Advisory Board, Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

On Sunday morning, May 12, 1918, Arthur Wolff penned a four-page letter to his mother, Frances, in New York City. A captain in the 306th Infantry Regiment, Wolff was quartered in Calais, France. He was safely behind the lines, but he could hear the distant roar of the giant guns at the front. Wolff wrote to his mother faithfully each week to assure her that he was safe. But this correspondence had special meaning — it was Mother’s Day.

13Yockelson jumboAn American soldier in France writing a letter home during World War I. (Credit: Bettmann, via Corbis)“Dearest Mother,” he began. “I am back from a four days trip to frontline trenches. … Today is known as Mother’s Day and every American soldier is writing home today. I never felt better in my life.”

A hundred years later, with email, Skype and text messages, such letters seem quaint, even antiquarian. But during World War I, pen and paper provided one of the only links between soldiers like Wolff and home. By May 1918, the Army had deployed more than one million soldiers on the Western Front to fight in a distant war over tangled loyalties and imperial aspirations. Keeping morale high meant reminding them of home.

Perhaps no one knew the tug of family ties better than the chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John J. Pershing. A hard-bitten veteran of the Spanish-American and Philippine wars, Pershing, known as Black Jack, hardly seemed the type of soldier to harbor a sentimental streak. But it was Pershing who, on May 8, 1918, issued a general order strongly suggesting that American soldiers, known as Doughboys, write Mother’s Day letters.

“I wish that every officer and soldier of the A.E.F. would write a letter home on Mother’s Day,” Pershing declared. “This is a little thing for each one to do, but these letters will carry back our courage and our affection to the patriotic women whose love and prayers inspire us and cheer us on to victory.” He then encouraged his commanders to allow men to write letters that day “as the preoccupying business of war will permit.”

Pershing’s suggestion came not from pathos, but from an affectionate family and personal tragedy. Though his mother, Anne, was no longer alive in 1918, he had fond memories of her from growing up in the town of Laclede, Mo., about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City. Anne Pershing made sure that her children were well read and well clothed, and that they attended church every Sunday.

Read more: Guest Opinion in the New York Times: Dear Mom, the War’s Going Great

Will the Great War ever end? 

By Joel P. Engardio
via the San Francisco Examiner newspaper web site

Fake news, global warming, deadly flu outbreaks, chemical weapons attacks in Syria and presidents for life in China and Russia.

With all the challenges we face in the world today, why is a commission created by Congress trying to build a $40 million memorial to World War I?

Because today’s great grandchildren are still fighting it.

SFE EngardioWorld War I veteran Wilford Sheltraw and retired U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning served a century apart, but the Great War connects them. (Left: Joel Engardio/Special to S.F. Examiner; Right: Courtesy Zoe Dunning)How so? The answer is etched in stone outside the National Archives in Washington, D.C, a half-mile from the planned memorial: “What is Past is Prologue.”

World War I, fought from 1914 to 1918, was the genesis of many issues we worry about today: mass media propaganda, global dependence on oil, pandemic disease, chemical weapons of mass destruction, Middle East conflict, the rise of China and Russia.

Once called the Great War for a scale of death and ruin never seen before, World War II went further and is better known. Yet, World War I should be remembered as the war that changed the world.

“[It] created a completely different world order,” said Monique Brouillet Seefried, a member of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, in a blog post. “The conflict zones of today, in the Balkans, Ukraine, the Middle East and the South China seas are direct consequences of World War I.”

The way we live was also forever altered. Among the things invented, improved or popularized during World War I: Pilates, plastic surgery, blood transfusions, canned food, condoms, daylight savings time, aviation, jazz, psychotherapy, trench coats, wristwatches, Wall Street, the verb “binge.”

Instead of a high-profile spot on the National Mall, the World War I memorial is planned for the run-down and long-neglected Pershing Park. This underscores how it has become a forgotten war.

The last combat veteran died in 2011, but we must remember why they fought. Understanding what happened in World War I can save lives today.

Read more: Will the Great War ever end?

"Pershing" Donors

Founding Sponsor
PritzkerMML Logo

Starr Foundation Logo