By CDT Jacob Widman
The Great War was a war that was supposed to be the end of all wars. In the minds of people around the world, the deaths of so many soldiers and civilians had guaranteed that no one would ever wage war again. To this effect, after November 11, 1918 or Armistice Day, many memorials to the fallen and monuments to the survivors were erected across the nation and the world. Today, a century and countless wars later, too many of these monuments and memorials have been neglected, destroyed, removed or abandoned.
In 2013, an Act of Congress created the World War 1 Centennial Commission (hereafter referred to as the Commission). The Commission’s mission is to commemorate the centennial of the occurrence of WWI, to include but not limited to preserving WWI monuments and memorials, and educate others on WWI. This mission is not unique to the Commission, but is it’s main focus.
In order to involve the nation in preserving, refurbishing, and even rebuilding monuments and memorials dedicated to those that fought in WWI, the Commission created the “100 memorials, 100 cities” program and the Volunteer Monument Hunter program. With the creation and continued activity of these programs, many monuments and memorials that would otherwise be obscured to history forever are uncovered, documented, and registered for all to enjoy. Some are found simply hiding in plain sight, like six small brass plates at the base of the trees at the entrance of courthouse in Orofino, ID commemorating six men who had died in WWI from the area (shown bottom left) or an unfinished memorial in the Old Agudas Achim cemetery in Columbus Ohio that has not been used since 19521 (shown bottom right). Others are more noticeable, like the large plaque in The First Presbyterian Church in Seattle Washington.
The Volunteer Monument/Memorial Hunter program, as described above, is one of the latest and largest program created by the Commission to encourage and spread the interest in finding and documenting WWI memorials and monuments. These entries are uploaded to a national database with the specific location, names of those honored, pictures of the memorial, and the names of those that rediscovered the memorial. So far, hundreds of monuments have been documented with this initiative. The memorials have been found across the country, in abandoned cemeteries, active cemeteries, courtyards and memorial walls in churches, synagogues, colleges, universities and other religious and educational institutions as well as parks and county court house lawns. Featured at the bottom left is one such a memorial found slowly sinking in a park and restored by Robert Shay1. The people who look for these monuments are as varied as the memorials they are trying to preserve. What they all have in common is the drive to preserve, protect, and in a sense, defend those who did the same for us a hundred years ago. All the volunteers had to do was spend a few hours walking around town looking for these historical markers.
The other principal program supported by the Commission is the “100 memorials, 100 cities” program. As mentioned previously, almost every city and town has a memorial to those that made the ultimate sacrifice during WWI. Because of this, the Commission is awarding up to $2,000 to 100 municipal governments, individuals, or organizations who are refurbishing their WWI monuments. So far 50 cities have applied for and won a grant, and the second batch of 50 will be announced from the second round of applications. The money is provided by many generous sponsors.
Now that you are aware of our hunt for WWI memorials, I issue a challenge. Find all WWI memorials within your cities, big and small. All represent one or more lives that have been lost to keep us free. While this may seem difficult, it is the least we can do as a nation to honor those that fought and especially those that gave the last full measure of devotion on this, the centenary of their sacrifice.
For help and questions with the Volunteer Monument Hunter program, the “100 memorials, 100 cities” program or the Commission in general, please refer to the Commission’s website
Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018