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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.

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