Grass Roots Remembrance is Key

As was recently estimated by Mark Levitch, creator of the World War 1 Memorial Inventory Project, there may be as many as 10,000 WW1 monuments in various forms throughout the United States. There was not a single national memorial to the war dedicated in their lifetime, yet America’s Doughboy generation did leave their mark on our landscape; the memorials they left behind were often small, local reminders of their service and sacrifice in “The World War” and perhaps that is how they wanted it. As author Richard Rubin described in his book THE LAST OF THE DOUGHBOYS, America’s World War I veterans were “self-reliant, humble and stoic; never complaining, still marveling at the immensity of the war they helped win” and this perspective may be a key to understanding the predominantly local and often low-key character of American monuments to “The War to End All Wars.”


For the past several years it has been my privilege to be able to attend a long-standing WW1 memorial service in southeast Pennsylvania. Each Memorial Day Weekend, the Descendants and Friends of the 314th Infantry, AEF, gather at Valley Forge’s Washington Memorial Chapel to remember the achievements and sacrifices of this regiment of the 79th Infantry Division in World War I. Essentially a local event (the men of the 314th were predominantly from southeast Pennsylvania and Delaware), the 314th Infantry Memorial Service, like many of our WW1 monuments, is both simple and poignant, and in many ways it retains the spirit of America’s WW1 generation.

The 314th Infantry Memorial Cabin as it stood on the grounds of the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge.

The 314th Infantry Memorial Cabin as it stood on the grounds of the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge.

The site of the 314th Memorial Service was not chosen at random – for some 90 years, the Chapel grounds contained the 314th Infantry Cabin, a log structure which had originally been built at Camp Meade, Maryland in 1917 by the men of the regiment. After the war the cabin was purchased by the veterans, dismantled and reassembled at Valley Forge. Over the generations, the cabin served as the repository for the memorabilia, war trophies, and Doughboy memories of the 314th Infantry, the responsibility for which was handed down through the children and grandchildren of the 314th’s WW1 veterans. Today, the historic cabin awaits reassembly at Fort Meade in time for the post’s World War 1 centennial observances, although the descendants and friends of the 314th continue to gather each year in Valley Forge to remember. As Nancy Schaff, President of the 314th Infantry Descendants and Friends, observed in her welcoming remarks at the start of the service, the 2015 gathering was the 93rd annual service in honor of the 314th.

The 2015 service was presided over by the Reverend Roy Almquist, Rector of the Washington Memorial Chapel. Following the presentation of Colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem, Rev. Almquist offered prayers of remembrance for the men of the regiment before calling on 314th Descendants & Friends President Nancy Schaff , who welcomed the nearly 100 attendees and gave a brief update on the status of the cabin, as well as her work with the US World War One Centennial Commission and other partnering organizations such as The Western Front Association East Coast Branch and Saving Hallowed Ground.

COL Douglas Mastriano, PhD, speaks at the 2015 Memorial Service to the 314th Infantry, AEF.

COL Douglas Mastriano, PhD, speaks at the 2015 Memorial Service to the 314th Infantry, AEF.

The principal speaker at the service was COL Douglas Mastriano, PhD, of the US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. COL Mastriano is the author of Alvin York: a New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne and is also responsible for researching and creating a five-kilometer historic trail in France’s Argonne Forest which interprets York’s Medal of Honor exploits. In his remarks, COL Mastriano detailed Alvin York’s humble beginnings and early life struggles prior to World War I, comparing him with the Civil War’s Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who rose from obscurity to be the “Hero of Little Roundtop” on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Citing the modest beginnings of both men, COL Mastriano offered them as examples of what all Americans are capable of. In his remarks, he further described Corporal York’s role in capturing some 132 German prisoners on October 8, 1918, bringing home to the Valley Forge attendees a fresh look at the man within the context of America’s experience of World War I.

Following the conclusion of the service, attendees participated in the folding of a 20’X30’ United States’ Flag sponsored by the “Saving Hallowed Ground” project, before adjourning to the Patriot’s Hall for a light reception.

The flag folding activity outside the Washington Memorial Chapel, following the 314th Memorial Service.

The flag folding activity outside the Washington Memorial Chapel, following the 314th Memorial Service.

The remarkable cross-generational effort encompassing the 314th Infantry Memorial Service, the cabin and the artifact collection may be unique among WW1 memorial efforts in the United States. For nearly 100 years each Memorial Day Weekend, those with a connection to the Regiment have paused from their lives and gathered at Valley Forge to remember. Without a doubt the historic 314th cabin and its artifact collection have been the key to keeping the veterans and their descendants connected over the long span of time. As America’s WW1 centennial years approach, the prospect of the reappearance of the cabin as an historic structure at Fort George G. Meade seems particularly appropriate – in a sense, this structure which was preserved by motivated individuals acting on a local level will become an object of national celebration.

US Mint Announces Design Competition for WW1 Commemorative Coin


WASHINGTON – The United States Mint is pleased to announce a call for American artists to design both the obverse and reverse of a silver dollar that will commemorate the centennial of America’s involvement in World War I. Authorized by law, the World War I American Veterans Centennial Commemorative Coin Design Competition invites American artists to design images emblematic of America’s involvement in World War I, with the winning artist to be awarded $10,000 and have his or her initials included on the minted coins.

“The World War I American Veterans Centennial Commemorative Coin Design Competition provides a unique opportunity for American artists to capture the sentiment and patriotism of the country nearly one hundred years ago while providing a tangible touch-point for future generations to understand and appreciate the impact of what was called ‘the war to end all wars,'” said Rhett Jeppson, Principal Deputy Director of the United States Mint. The public competition is being conducted in two phases. Phase One, which is open today through April 28, 2016, or until 10,000 entries are received, calls for American artists age 18 and older to submit portfolios of their prior work. From these entries, an expert jury will select no more than 20 applicants to participate in Phase Two. During Phase Two, artists will be paid a stipend of $1,000 to submit designs for the obverse and reverse of the coin, as well as plaster models of their designs. The winning artist will receive an additional $10,000 and will have his or her initials included on the coin as an artist mark. The final winner will be announced in January 2017.

An expert jury composed of members of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee will review and score design submissions. Both of these groups provide experienced and impartial expertise in advancing the state of public art and the interests of American citizens and coin collectors. With the winning design selected, the Mint will begin issuing commemorative silver dollar coins in 2018. Surcharges for this program are authorized be paid to the United States Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars (Foundation) to assist in the funding of the National World War I Memorial in Washington. The Foundation also held a competition to design the Memorial with the winning design concept, entitled “The Weight of Sacrifice.” “This competition affords American artists a rare occasion to design a coin that will preserve an important time in American history and pay tribute to the bravery, actions, and sacrifices that were so critical to the final outcome,” said Jeppson. There have only been a handful of open design competitions in modern history in which the Mint has called upon the public to submit designs for a coin. Most recently, the Mint held a competition in 2013 for the design of the reverse image for the Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Program.

For full details on the competition, including rules of entry, visit the United States Mint website HERE.

WFA East Coast to Hold Spring 2016 WW1 History Symposium in Baltimore


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On Saturday June 11, 2016, the Western Front Association East Coast Branch (USA) will gather at the historic Maryland War Memorial Building in Baltimore for an exciting day-long program featuring authors and speakers on First World War history topics, displays of WW1 artifacts, door prizes and networking among WW1 history organizations, museums, historic sites and individuals.  The event is open to the public and new attendees are always welcome.

Among the formal presentations at the symposium will be Dr. Nicole Hudgins of the University of Baltimore who will discuss her recent study “Hold Still, Madame – Wartime Gender and the Photography of Women in France” published by the University of St. Andrews.  Authors Douglas Fisher and JoAnn Buckley will present highlights from their new book AFRICAN-AMERICAN DOCTORS OF WORLD WAR 1THE LIVES OF 104 VOLUNTEERS.  Historian and author William T. Walker will present a new critical re-evaluation of the American Expeditionary Forces attack on Montfaucon in September 1918 based on his new book BETRAYAL AT LITTLE GIBRALTAR.  Dr. Peter Lubrecht will reveal a rarely-seen glimpse of the life of a German infantryman in the West during 1914-15 based on his book LIEBE KÜCK – A GERMAN SOLDIER’S STORY THE GREAT WAR.  Finally WFA East Coast Branch Chairman Paul Cora will recount the July 1916 voyage to Baltimore of the German commercial U-boat DEUTSCHLAND in the context of the public opinion debate it inspired and the challenges experienced by German-Americans both before and after America’s entry into WW1.

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The event will also feature a Branch-sponsored WW1 new, used and out-of-print book sale, as well as refreshments, discussions, displays, and as always, lots of camaraderie.

See the announcement flyer and registration materials here:  WFA East Coast Spring 2016 Flyer


PAFA Plans for Major WW1 Art Exhibiton in 2016

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The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) will open a substantial new exhibition in 2016 which examines the effect of World War I on American art.  According to Dr. Robert Cozzolino, lead Curator for the project, “World War I and American Art” will seek to dispel a long-held notion in art history that the First World War had little impact on the work of artists in the United States.

The exhibition will consist of some 115 art objects including sculpture and photographs as well as paintings and drawings by noted artists such as Frederick Childe Hassam, Hugh Henry Breckenridge, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keefe, Horace Pippin, Charles Burchfield, the brothers Ivan and Melvin Albright, and Claggett Wilson.

Hugh Henry Breckenridge "The Pestilence" 1918

Hugh Henry Breckenridge “The Pestilence” 1918

The three major themes of “World War I and American Art” will consist of American reactions to the war prior to 1917, America’s entry and participation, and finally the Armistice and the war’s aftermath.  Reactions to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, an examination of Hassam and Hartley’s flag paintings, and the concept of outrage as reflected in illustrations from “The Masses” magazine will be featured in the pre-entry portion of the exhibit, while some works by Georgia O’Keefe and Charles Burchfield, as well as American examples of Dadaism will be used to examine private reactions to the war by American artists.  Within the mobilization and participation section, works by official war artists will be featured, as well as portrayals of women in both traditional and non-traditional roles.  The works of soldier-artists Horace Pippin and Claggett Wilson will be exhibited among paintings depicting the American experience in the war, and Ivan Albright’s work drawing wounds and medical procedures at an American hospital near Nantes will be used examine their impact on the artist’s later works.  Posters produced during the war for recruitment and mobilization will also be prominently featured.

Lusitania poster

“World War I and American Art” will open at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on November 11, 2016, and run through April 9, 2017 after which it will travel to other venues.  Working with lead Curator Robert Cozzolino, will be independent art curator Anne C. Knutson, and Professor David Lubin of Wake Forest University.

For more information on the exhibition, visit PAFA here.


Historic Gallipoli Campaign Warship Restored in UK

The newly restored HMS M 33 displayed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, England.

The newly restored HMS M 33 displayed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, England.

The shallow-draft monitor HMS M 33 was opened to the public at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, England, on August 6, 2015.  The vessel, which took part in WW1 operations at Gallipoli, Salonika, and later in north Russia, recently underwent a £2.5M restoration to her 1915 configuration and can now be explored by visitors to the museum who can experience special audio-visual enhancements interpreting the vessel’s role in the campaign.

Equipped with 6-inch deck guns, the monitor M 33 was designed for close-in shore bombardment of enemy positions.  The formal opening ceremony at the Royal Navy Museum took place on the 100th anniversary of the start of the August offensive in Gallipoli, and was attended by descendants of the Gallipoli campaign.

The monitor HMS M 33 seen in the Aegean Sea during WW1.

The monitor HMS M 33 seen in the Aegean Sea during WW1.

HMS M 33 is one of a handful of WW1 historic naval vessels around the world today which include the light cruiser HMS CAROLINE in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the protected cruiser USS OLYMPIA in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the battleship USS TEXAS in Corpus Christi, Texas.


Panel Selects Finalists for National WW1 Memorial Design

The statue of Gen. John J. "Blackjack" Pershing which stands in Washington DC's Pershing Park.

The statue of Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing which stands in Washington DC’s Pershing Park.

An independent panel has selected five finalists from among the approximately 350 design proposals received by the US World War 1 Centennial Commission for a new national World War 1 memorial to be created in Washington DC’s Pershing Park.  The winning design will be announced in January 2016.

The location for the new memorial is Pershing Park located along Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets NW, approximately 1 block from The White House.  The park currently contains a statue of General John J. Pershing who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in World War 1.  A place on the National Mall for the memorial is not possible due to a National Park Service moratorium on new memorials there.

The request for proposals specified designs which could be completed for $20M-$25M.  According to DoD sources, the five finalists are: “Plaza to the Forgotten War,” submitted by Andrew Cesarz, Johnsen Schmaling Architects; “World War One Memorial Concept” by Devin Kimmel; “The Weight of Sacrifice” by Joseph Weishaar; “An American Family Portrait Wall in the Park” by Luis Collado, Jose Luis de la Fuente, Jose Luis Perez-Griffo, Ignacio Espigares, Marta Bueno, Shoko Nakamura, of STL Architects; and “Heroes’ Green” by: Maria Counts.

For more details, see the DoD press release here.

New Account of America’s First WW1 Offensive: FIRST OVER THERE – THE ATTACK ON CANTIGNY

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Former soldier and now author Matthew J. Davenport’s new account of the first sustained American offensive of the First World War – the Battle of Cantigny – provides a fresh look at this May 1918 battle in France.  FIRST OVER THERE – THE ATTACK ON CANTIGNY (MacMillan 2015), makes use of carefully researched primary source materials to weave together an account of how the men of the US 1st Infantry Division went “over the top” to take and hold the frontline village of Cantigny.  From the publisher: “At first light on Tuesday, May 28th, 1918, waves of American riflemen from the U.S. Army’s 1st Division climbed from their trenches, charged across the shell-scarred French dirt of no-man’s-land, and captured the hilltop village of Cantigny from the grip of the German Army. Those who survived the enemy machine-gun fire and hand-to-hand fighting held on for the next two days and nights in shallow foxholes under the sting of mustard gas and crushing steel of artillery fire.”

With the village of Cantigny falling to the Imperial German 18th Army during Ludendorff’s spring 1918 offensive, newly arrived American troops were placed in the sector opposite the village in April 1918.  The following month, the US 1st Infantry Division was tasked with capturing and holding Cantigny in what would be the first American offensive operation of the war.  After weeks of enduring German shelling and poison gas attacks, the Doughboys of “The Big Red One” moved forward from their trenches to take and hold the ruins of the village despite numerous strong counterattacks in the succeeding days.  Though a local operation which cost the AEF some 1,600 casualties, the Battle of Cantigny demonstrated the emerging prowess of Pershing’s Doughboys.

Davenport’s new book introduces the reader to many all-but-forgotten Americans who took part in the battle and deftly sets the stage for the coming centennial of American participation in “The War to End All Wars.”

Matthew Davenport is a US Army veteran who now practices law in North Carolina.  For more details on this exciting new book, visit the author’s website here.

Fall 2015 Symposium in WW1 History To Be Held in York, PA


The Western Front Association East Coast Branch (USA) will gather in York, PA on Saturday October 24 for the Fall 2015 Symposium in World War 1 History.  Join WFA East Coast at the York County Heritage Trust for an exciting day of WW1 history presentations, displays, discussions, door prizes, book signings and more !

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Presentations at the symposium include:

  • “The Life of General ‘Blackjack’ Pershing –Meet America’s most celebrated personality of WW1   as living history presenter Dane Coffman portrays General John J. Pershing while recounting his life story. From his early days on the American frontier and later the Spanish –American War, learn how Pershing faced trials in his Army career and tragedy in his personal life before taking on the monumental task of forging and leading an American Army in the “War to End All Wars.”
  • First Over There –The Attack on Cantigny”- Facing veteran German troops, the largely untried US 1st Infantry Division carried out the first American offensive action of World War 1 capturing and holding the front-line village of Cantigny. Author Matthew J. Davenport tells the stories of the men of “The Big Red 1” who fought and died in this May 1918 battle – based on his new book from St. Martin’s Press. Copies will be available for sale.
  • The Germans of Hampton Roads –  Beginning in April 1915, two German surface raiders , the Prinz Eitel Friedrich and   the Kronprinz Wilhelm , were interned in Hampton Roads, Virginia. In a unique study of war and society, Gregory Hansard of the Virginia Historical Society explores the internment of more than 500 of their crew from April 1915 to September 1916 and the relationships they formed with the Norfolk community and U.S. officials.
  • A Yank in the RAF – Too young to fly with the US Air Service, Baltimore native Francis Warrington Gillett made his way into Britain’s Royal Air Force (formerly RFC) in 1918 where he flew Sopwith Dolphin fighters with No. 79 Squadron. Credited with 20 victories by the time of the Armistice, Gillett is second on the list of American flying aces of World War I. WFA East Coast’s Paul Cora recounts his story and also outlines plans for the Branch to memorialize this little known aviator.
  • “Alvin York- A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne –  Historian COL Douglas V. Mastriano of the US Army War College presents a fresh look at the unlikely hero who became an American icon of “The War to End All Wars” – based on his book from the University of Kentucky Press. Copies will be available for sale.


For full details and event registration information, view the flyer here: WFA East Coast Fall 2015



Wisconsin Plans for SS TUSCANIA Memorial


Torpedoed in the Irish Sea on February 6, 1918, the British liner-turned-troopship SS TUSCANIA, sank with the loss of more than 200 persons.  Aboard were American troops of the 32nd Infantry Division bound for France, along with two American Air Service squadrons bound for France.  Among the survivors of the sinking were 21 men from the city of Baraboo, Wisconsin who after the war formed a club known as “the Baraboo 21”, the last member of whom died in 2001.

Local area school teacher Steve Argo recently approached the city’s Parks Commission with a proposal to honor the memory of  “the Baraboo 21” with a bronze plaque within Baraboo’s Mary Rountree Evans Park.  City officials have agreed to the proposal and private fundraising for the estimated $100K project will evidently begin with the goal of completing the memorial in time for the 2018 centennial.

For more details, see the news article here.

Major WW1 Art Exhibition Travels to St. Louis

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Originally opened at The Getty Research Institute of Los Angeles the art exhibition “World War I: War of Images, Images of War” will travel to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis.  Opening at the Kemper Museum on September 11, the exhibition draws on the Getty Institute’s Special Collections, as well as significant loaned works, to present a unique examination of the visual culture of World War I through the eyes of contemporary artists.  The exhibit will run through January 4, 2016.

“World War I: War of Images, Images of War” seeks to demonstrate “the distinctive ways in which combatant nations utilized visual propaganda against their enemies and explores how individual artists developed their own visual language to convey and cope with the gruesome horrors they witnessed. Featuring the artists Umberto Boccioni, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fernand Léger, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Natalia Goncharova, Félix Vallotton, among many others, the exhibition contains 150 objects that represent a range of media, including satirical illustrated journals, print portfolios, postcards, photographs, and firsthand accounts such as a war diary, correspondence from the front, and ‘trench art’ made by soldiers. The work on view is primarily from Germany, France, Italy, Russia and the United States.”

Although the role of propaganda in World War I remained consistent with previous wars,” says the exhibition’s press release, “contrasting a self-image of cultural superiority with a vilified, barbaric enemy—a new dimension began to appear in this distinctively modern war of images. At the start of the 20th century, Europeans were navigating a course between the advancements of industrial modernity, on the one hand, and the loss of the traditional values and ways of life, on the other. Each of the countries in this exhibition represented their enemy as not just a military threat, but a threat to the very future of European civilization.”

American Helmet Painted in Imitation of a German Camouflage Helmet Ca. 1918 Robert McGiffin (American) Lent by Jane A. Kimball, Trench Art Collection

American Helmet Painted in Imitation of a German Camouflage Helmet Ca. 1918 Robert McGiffin (American) Lent by Jane A. Kimball, Trench Art Collection

A major focus  will be the contrast between the use of art as propaganda – the “War of Images” portion of the exhibition – and the reactions of individual artists and soldiers to the reality of war – the “Images of War” portion of the exhibit.   Also featured will be numerous visual objects which include “rare examples of handmade ‘trench art,’ such as helmets, canteens, and shell casings, by anonymous WWI soldiers, some of it made from the actual materials of war. During long stretches of extreme boredom—punctuated by intense violence—soldiers preserved memories of the units in which they served, the battles in which they fought, and images of soldiers and civilians whom they met by making souvenirs or personal messages to loved ones from discarded military detritus.”  The exhibition will conclude with a section titled “Aftermath” which examines “the trauma the war had caused in participants. Prints by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz, and books by Fernand Léger illustrate artists’ attempts to come to terms with their experience of war trauma in the conflict’s aftermath. At a listening station, visitors can hear Dix recounting his experiences in the war, recorded in 1963. Dix served during nearly the entire war and was wounded several times. He returned to his wartime experiences almost obsessively in work produced throughout his lifetime.

For full details on “World War I: War of Images, Images of War” at Washington University in St. Louis, click here.