The Americans who laid down their lives in the Great War deserve a memorial
By Ray Kelly
via the New York Post newspaper web site
As the smoke clears from the Fourth of July fireworks sent aloft over Washington, DC, something profound is still missing from our nation’s capital: America’s World War I Memorial.
More than 100 years after the end of that brutal, searing conflict, the Americans who laid down their lives in Europe have yet to be honored with a memorial worthy of their sacrifice.
In our rush to celebrate our national holiday, and amid our often-squalid daily politics, we continue to lose our connection to a combat that inflicted more than 116,000 American causalities, a war that left more “Doughboys” on the battlefield within a short 18 months than the losses suffered by our armed forces by the end of the Korean and Vietnam wars — combined.
Well into the 21st century, with no survivors left from World War I to demand that this wrong be righted, we are left to our national conscience to reflect on what we owe that generation.
In doing so, we are afforded the opportunity to consider the lasting legacy of that shattering conflict, including: women’s suffrage, civil rights, the emergence of modern medicine and the role of America as an economic and military superpower.
Who we are today was forged in the crucible of the Great War. But for 100 years, we have declined to pay tribute to the Americans who fought it by erecting a lasting and fitting memorial in the capital.
Our nation’s capital is home to monuments and memorials to great leaders, poets and politicians, milestone achievements and past sacrifices required to sustain our republic. There is a triumphant memorial to World War II and a deeply reflective Vietnam memorial that pays tribute to those I served with during that conflict.
The Korean War is captured with poignant statuary: A solidarity sailor reflects on those lost at sea. The shared purpose of these memorials is to permanently capture our nation’s everlasting obligation to remember, reflect and honor.
Still there is no national memorial in Washington, DC, that allows us to honor those Americans who gave their lives in World War I. Today, that unfinished business is being attended to, but it requires assistance.
The World War I Centennial Commission, which was appointed by Congress in 2013, has been working to raise the more than $40 million needed to create an appropriate tribute in Washington, relying on individual donations, philanthropists and corporations that recognize the outstanding debt still owed; but it has taken far too long to start advancing on the goal of groundbreaking — and far more financial support is needed still.
For those of us who have served in America’s military, this absence is particularly disquieting. One can’t help but wonder if our current sacrifices in Afghanistan and elsewhere, where our servicemen and women are asked to defend our nation’s security, will be marginalized as “distant history” in 2119.
We have every right to ask: At what point is it appropriate for our national consciousness to dismiss the legacy of Americans in uniform?
At what point does the clock run out on honoring, remembering and memorializing the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of freedom? When all the survivors have passed from this earthly veil? Are we at that point justified in forgetting them?
As we place America’s 243rd birthday in the history books, we should also recognize that we are 100 years past due in paying tribute to those men and women who ensured we would reach this day by fighting in the poison-gas-filled trenches of the Old World.
Our commemorations of Independence Day will be far more meaningful — and far richer — if we make a personal and collective commitment to build the Washington, DC, memorial to the 4 million Americans who fought during the Great War. May we never forget their sacrifice.
Read the entire article on the New York Post web site.
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