On a damp, overcast and very chilly autumn day in Washington D.C. just days before the country celebrates Veteran’s Day, the World War I Centennial Commission held a groundbreaking ceremonial event at Pershing Park.
United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark A. Milley, were just a few of the dignitaries who participated in the groundbreaking of the long-awaited memorial. During the ceremony, they shoveled soil from Meuse-Argonne Battlefield in France.
In her opening comments, Mayor Bowser stated:“here in Washington D.C. we are very fortunate to have access to many of the nation’s memorials, museums, and monuments that tell our nation’s history. We know that the World War I memorial will be a vital and long-awaited addition to this story.”
Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley reminded the audience of the more than 200,000 Americans wounded in the so-called “Great War” and more than 100,000 more killed. He said “we must remember what they fought for, why they fought. We must carry on that legacy.”
VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin noted “although there are no living World War I Veterans, the VA recognizes the incredible history this generation of Veterans made to both America and the world following the Great War. He continued:
“The impact of World War I not only changed the technology of warfare but the forever shaped the geopolitical landscape worldwide. In fact, the challenges in the Middle East, southwest Asia, and Eastern Europe are directly traced to the outcomes of the war.
For the United States, the significance of World War I cannot be oversimplified. The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, and fought until the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. In that period of fewer than two years, more Americans died than in Korea and Vietnam combined. Nearly five million Americans served; 116,516 men and women Americans died, and there were more than 320,000 U.S. casualties. The face of America at war also reflected a diverse population of immigrants, minorities and native Americans.”
Many World War I veterans were upset that no national memorial was ever erected to commemorate their service and The Great War. In an interview with WJLA, ABC, the granddaughter of famed Army General John Pershing and others at the event expressed regret that this day took 100 years to happen. “I think it was due to the Depression and the fact that the war was so horrific that no one wanted to talk about it,” said Sandra Sinclair Pershing. “Then, World War II happened. Moreover, everyone got swept up in that.”
In 2015, the commission held an international competition for the design of the monument. A 25-year-old architect named Joe Weishaar, and his associate sculptor, Sabin Howard won the competition. The project is expected to cost $30 million to $35 million, all raised from private donations.
Howard, who is busy working in New Zealand on the 65-foot-long, 11-foot-tall bas-relief depicting scenes from the war and the homecoming, was unable to attend the groundbreaking. Weishaar eloquently addressed the audience saying “it will be one of the world’s largest bas-reliefs” and “being a part of the monument that will rest in Pershing Park is the greatest honor of my life.” He also echoed the sentiment of other speakers stating “it may be long overdue, but today marks another point in the journey of making sure they are not forgotten.”
The erection site of the monument has been an ongoing point of contention. Pershing Park has been described as a shabby, run down, neglected and not appropriate for the memorial paying tribute to the Great War. Many thought it should reside on the National Mall, nearer the memorials to the Korean War, World War II, and the Vietnam Wall. After much debate, the commission decided on Pershing Park, an area already dedicated to the famous World War I General, John “Black Jack” Pershing.
Referencing the site chosen for the monument, Weishaar said: “we are in a more fitting place I think for commemoration, Pershing Park sits between the White House and the Capitol Building along Pennsylvania Avenue where Armistice celebrations were held.”
Originally called Armistice Day, the commemoration was held on November 11 because that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. It was a day to pay respect to those who laid down their lives as a sacrifice to our country. In 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” to account for all veterans in all wars.
On November 1 of this year, to recognize the sacrifices made by Veterans and their families, President Trump declared November 2017 to be National Veterans and Families Month. Over time, as a nation, we see that it is not only the soldier who bears the burdens of service when representing our great nation.
On this Veteran’s Day let’s all take time to pay to respect the servicemen and women who have served and are currently serving to ensure our liberty. Let us also stand for the national anthem and always remember those who gave their lives, that we may enjoy being free.