Plans for World War I Memorial in Washington

Plans for World War I Memorial in Washington
How should the United States honor the wishes of the last American World War I soldier, who asked for a national monument to the country's role in the conflict?

The answer is more complicated than it seems.

Frank Buckles, who was a teenage ambulance driver in the Great War, was dismayed to discover on a 2008 visit to Washington's sprawling National Mall that there was nothing to commemorate the pivotal role Americans played in the final two years of the 1914-1918 conflict.

The wheelchair-bound 107-year-old found memorials to wars in Vietnam and Korea, and a grand monument to the US victory in World War II.

But for World War I, the best he and his entourage could find was an abandoned marble bandstand honoring Washington residents who died in the conflict.

"'Can you do something so that my generation is remembered?'" photographer and filmmaker David DeJonge, who was in the group, recalls Buckles saying.

"What do you say to the last World War I veteran when he asks that?"

Americans have long debated how to best remember influential people and events. Grand memorials in cemeteries were once popular, as were statues of war heroes on horseback. Others argued that memorial libraries and schools were more practical.

Memorials have also long been local affairs: there are some 10,000 WWI memorials across the country, including three in the US capital, according to the World War I Inventory Project.

They usually honor local military units or hometown troops who fell in the war, and include statues, plaques and bridges.

Most prominent among them is the 217-foot (67-meter) Liberty Tower, on a hill soaring over Kansas City, Missouri.

The city was a wealthy rail hub during the war years, and close to the birthplace of the top US WWI military commander, General John J. Pershing.

Swept up in patriotic enthusiasm at the war's end, Kansas City residents raised $2.5 million — the equivalent of $35 million on Sunday — in just 10 days to build the tower.


Our contributor helps bringing the latest updates to you

Share it