Washington DC will finally get a memorial dedicated to WWI

Washington DC is renowned for its magnificent war memorials dedicated to the memories of those who fell in Korea, Vietnam and WWII. But until now, WWI  has remained unmarked in the US capital.  However, that is set to change as the nation’s capital is finally set to embark on building a memorial to the Great War.

The early sun rising over the WWII Memorial in Washington DC. Image by: Getty

After extensive planning, a design for a permanent memorial has been approved, an official groundbreaking event has taken place at Pershing Park in downtown DC, and fundraising has started.

“It’s a 3D bas-relief that will beautifully tell the story,” said Dr Matthew Naylor, a commissioner on the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission who is also president and CEO of the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. “The aggressive goal is to be completed in twelve months, to inaugurate the memorial on Veterans Day, 11 November, 2018.”

The street gallery of WWI that has just been installed in Pershing Park. Image by Barbara Noe Kennedy

Whether that date stands firm is anyone’s guess, but one thing that is sure is the stunning photographic street gallery, entitled “Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: The Doughboys, 1917-1918,” that has just been installed in Pershing Park to celebrate the groundbreaking event. Photojournalist Michael St. Maur Sheil spent 12 years capturing the battlefields in Belgium and northern France. Out of 19,000 photos curated by Sheil and the staff at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City came this exhibition of contemporary images that tell the story of the Doughboys, displayed alongside compelling text on massive panels.

“Americans have forgotten your history,” said Sheil, a native of Oxford, England. “Your participation is something you should be incredibly proud of.” As the panels demonstrate, there are so many stories to be told. Each photo is a launching point for a broader narrative, whether it’s the iron harvest (unexploded ordnance still being found on farmer’s fields), the last American to be killed in the battlefield (a German immigrant), or the role of African-Americans.

The ‘Beaux arts’ Liberty memorial in Kansas City. Image by Getty

“The U.S. involvement in the First World War was a hugely significant factor,” Sheil said. “And it’s not only military history. It’s national history. Many of the American soldiers were first-generation immigrants. It’s the war, really, that marked the advent of America as a unified nation.” The open-air street gallery, accessible to all passers-by, will be on display through 3 December 2017, when it moves on to Atlanta, New York City, then Chicago. An identical edition of the exhibit has already traveled through the United Kingdom with more than nine million visitors.

In the meantime, stay tuned for progress on the war memorial.  The photo exhibition was co-curated by the World War One Centennial Commission and the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.

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