A First Look at the National World War I Memorial, Nov. 8-12, 2018
Special Events help build awareness of and excitement for new Memorial
By Jayne Davis
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site, via Susan Davis International (SDI)
There are moments in history that cannot and should not be forgotten. The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission stepped up to ensure that America remembered the first World War on the 100th anniversary of its close. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ended. America’s entry the previous year set the course of American history and ignited passions of allegiance and heroism in the four million Americans who served and the 116, 525 men and women who sacrificed their lives.
For a period of five days this month, November 8 through November 12, citizens could look into the lives and stories of .diverse groups and individual who served and .supported the US military in WWI through nine public events held in Pershing Park, Washington, D.C, the future site of the National World War I Memorial.
The capstone “First Look” event was a dramatic live performance of the 36-character sculpture design bringing to life the story of a soldier’s journey, and the public presentation of the approved Memorial design.
The Commission created the Special Events to help build awareness of and excitement for the Memorial, educate the American people about the importance of WWI and why it matters today, and honor those who served and those who gave it their full measure. The 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I was an historic event celebrated around the world, and the “First Look” events paid long overdue tribute to the significance of the anniversary.
Free to the public, the series of events threw open long-shuttered windows into the contributions of women, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and U.S. states and territories, and saluted the military and veterans. The cascade of events began with a moving tribute to those who served through the traditional symbolism of wreath laying, and ended with a film festival featuring WWI-themed films that bring to life this momentous time in our nation’s history.
The Memorial site was open to the public with a daily presentation of colors at 9 a.m. and “Taps” at sunset, November 8 through November 12. In the popular “ First Look” Pavilion, visitors were provided a special preview of the Memorial, and information about ways to be part of the historical project.
The Nation Served: Wreath Laying Tribute to the States and Territories
The opening event of “First Look” was a wreath laying tribute to those from the U.S. States and Territories who served in World War I. Special guest speakers included:
o U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie;
o District of Columbia City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson;
o Director of the Washington D.C. Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs Ely S. Ross; and
o Col. Jennifer N. Pritzker, Pritzker Military Museum and Library founder and chairwoman.
The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” Brass Quintet performed and representatives from every state and territory laid wreaths in honor of World War I soldiers from across the nation and territories. Following the ceremony, guests attended a reception highlighting the 100 Cities/100 Memorials program, a photo presentation that illuminated the work of program grant recipients preserving and restoring World War l memorials in their communities.
Women in Wartime: Tribute to the Women of World War I
The women of WWI demonstrated their ability to take on traditionally male roles and paved the way for future service of women in the U.S. military. Guest speakers celebrating women on the frontlines and the home front of WWI included:
o Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Quartermaster and World War l Centennial Commissioner Debra Anderson, first female Quartermaster of the VFW;
o National Commander of the American Legion Denise Rohan, first woman National Commander of the American Legion; and
o Retired Adm. Michelle Howard, the first female four-star admiral of the U.S. Navy.
To conclude the tribute event, women from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces laid wreaths at the Pershing Statue to honor the women of World War I. Participants included:
o President of the Sea Service Leadership Association Lt. Cmdr. Alexa Jenkins;
o Founder of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught;
o Women Marines Association President Rhonda Amtower;
o Coast Guard Capt. Lucinda Cunningham; and
o Army Sgt. First Class Jasmine Joyner.
The Heroic Legacy: African Americans and Latinos of World War I
The war directly impacted all minorities, male and female, soldier and civilian. Guest speakers reflected on the impact of the war on the African American and Latino communities, and the heroic legacy of their service. Speakers included:
o Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, U.S. Representative for the District of Columbia;
o Col. Gerald York, grandson of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Alvin York, one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I;
o Seven-time Grammy nominee Bobby Sanabria;
o Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington;
o Lawrence Romo, American GI Forum National Commander; and
o City Lore Folklorist Elena Martinez.
Retired Maj. Gen. Christopher Leins shared the plans and progress of the Valor Medals Review Task Force, created by the U.S. World War l Centennial Commission to review WWI service records to ensure veterans receive valor awards they had earned, but may not have been awarded due to the prevailing racial or religious discriminations of the time.
The program concluded with a performance by The 369th Experience Band, a recreation of the original 369th Regimental Band that consisted of 65 African American and Puerto Rican men who beyond their battlefield bravery charmed the hearts and minds of Americans and Europeans, bringing jazz to the European continent. A video of this event can be found at https://vimeo.com/299479482.
Tribute to the Homefront
Though the war abroad meant daily life on the homefront was drastically altered, those at home seized any opportunity to aid the war efforts. The focus was on the contributions of organizations that served on the homefront during this extraordinary time. The program included a presentation by lead designer Joe Weishaar and sculptor Sabin Howard, who provided insights into the memorial design. Participating speakers:
o American Red Cross Senior Vice President of Government Relations Cherae Bishop;
o Peter Bielak, a Boy Scouts of America historian, who wore an authentic World War I-era Boy Scout uniform; and
o Maj. James Shiels, Salvation Army.
During the event, five families were reunited with their loved ones’ service medals in a Purple Hearts Reunited presentation. Purple Hearts Reunited is the only organization that returns lost or stolen medals to veterans and military families at no cost.
Bravest of the Brave: The Native Americans of World War I
When the United States entered WWI, Native Americans were not yet citizens. Though they could not be drafted, Native American men volunteered to serve.
Speakers recognized the courageous contributions Native Americans made on behalf of our nation throughout WWI. Presenters included:
o President of the National Congress of American Indians and retired U.S. Army officer Jefferson Keel
o Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Elder and former President of the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C. Michael Nephew; and
o Ralph Zotigh, Kiowa tribal elder and descendant of a World War l veteran, who offered a special blessing.
The Unveiling of A Soldiers Journey
Thirty-six young actors the age of the young men who fought in WWI donned original WWI uniforms, helmets, leggings and rifles, and in silent mime produced a dramatic telling of the soldier’s journey depicted in the 36-character, 58-foot long Memorial design. .This special event allowed major donors, military representatives from the U.S. and Commonwealth Countries, and Commission guests to view a narrated unveiling of seven scenes comprising the Memorial design.
Sculptor Sabin Howard cast the actors into position in real time before the audience, bringing the future World War I Memorial, in Washington, D.C. to life. The Memorial tells a story of a family, a nation, and an epic mythology. The father departs from the arms of his family, enters into the brutality of battle, experiences the costs of war, leaves the death and madness of war transformed, finally returning home forever changed. The evening concluded with a curtain drop unveiling the Memorial design printed on linen cloth . with the actors leading the audience in a rousing rendition of one ofo the most the famous of World War I .songs “Over There.”
Military and Veterans Salute
The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission lent special emphasis to the honoring of all military and veterans of WWI and the conflicts that followed, reminders that their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Commissioner Thomas Moe, who was captured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and was held along with U.S. Sen. John McCain, set the stage with his moving remarks.
The program included performances by British Bagpiper, Warrant Officer Class 2 Pipe Major Peter MacGregor, British Army, and readings from winning students of the annual History Day competition.
Capping off the speaker series of events, guests were treated to a finishing performance by The 369th Experience, which is composed of students from historically black colleges and universities.
Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, a one-time Washington, D.C. resident and jazz legend, keynoted, and the event was emceed by 369th Regiment descendants, Noble Sissle, Jr. & James Reese Europe III.
World War I Armistice Film Festival
The World War I Armistice Film Festival concluded the public series of events with a diverse collection of WWI films and showcasing the WWI Commission’s signature film, “A Soldier’s Journey,” chronicling the creation of the World War I Memorial.