Memorials and Monuments: The World War I Competition

As you may have heard, there’s a competition going on to construct a World War I memorial in Washington, DC, just south of the Willard Hotel and east of the William T. Sherman statue in a place now known as Pershing Park, which features a statue of Black Jack as well as slabs detailing American campaigns in 1918. Five finalists have been chosen, and their proposals can be found here.

I actually like Pershing Park, although I can see that for some people it’s something of a disappointment (and I know other people haven’t a clue about the existence of that park, or the memorial to the District of Columbia’s World War I experience along the Mall, which is tucked away in obscurity between the King Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the World War II Memorial).

Mall West

Here you can see the location of both parks. Pershing Park is southeast of the White House, while the DC War Memorial is due north of the King Memorial.

As we talk about monuments and memorials, what do you think of these designs and what they are trying to say?

6 thoughts on “Memorials and Monuments: The World War I Competition

  1. James F. Epperson August 24, 2015 / 8:59 am

    The proposals are all presented in slightly different ways, which made a comparison difficult. I kind of liked “Weight of Sacrifice” the best, if only because it appears to emphasize the cost of the war.

  2. Mark Snell August 24, 2015 / 11:09 am

    I liked “Weight of Sacrifice,” too, but a close inspection of the images (middle of the page) to be used for the bas relief panels reveals Russian and British Empire troops. And I have no idea why the dates “October 1917” and “November 1917” are there, since U.S. troops were not even engaged at those times. Maybe they indicate the Russian Revolution and the Battle of Cambrai–but why are these events depicted on a U.S. memorial? (Unless the chronology of the entire war is part of the design.) Submission 0037 is reflective of the temporary “victory arches” that were erected in cities across the country after the Armistice, and for that reason I would make this my top pick. Not too sure why the designers of 0037 included a statue of a “calvary” horse, since no U.S. cavalry units made it to the Western Front. If these are the best of the submissions, I am not overly impressed.

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 24, 2015 / 2:06 pm

      When I was at Cambrai this past June, someone informed me that Americans sent over as support troops were indeed pressed into combat, and several men died (and are buried in a local military cemetery). I did not pursue this at the time (I have plans to return), but engineer units saw combat in November.

  3. Mark Snell August 24, 2015 / 4:15 pm

    Brooks,

    You are correct. But the Americans’ actions were quite limited. I doubt if the memorial’s designers even knew about this episode. See below.

    An excerpt from my next book, _Gettysburg’s Other Battle: The Saga of an American Shrine during the First World War_ (Kent State Univ. Press, 2016):

    “Ironically, a Gettysburg native actually participated in the Battle of Cambrai. Lieutenant Herbert A. Bream, who grew up on Confederate Avenue straddling Seminary Ridge, was assigned to the 11th U.S. Engineer Regiment (Railway), attached to the British Army. In a letter home that eventually made its way to the March 26, 1918 edition of the Gettysburg Times, Bream boasted, ‘Now, we like to be called experienced soldiers, having been behind the line, in the line and—at Cambrai—over the line. When the British broke the Hindenburg Line on the 20th of last November we were there and crossed with them.’ The 11th Engineers had been instrumental in transporting the British tanks by rail to the vicinity of their jump-off line for the assault. On November 30, 1917, the Germans counterattacked and penetrated to the area where the Americans were repairing the rail line, and the engineers were forced to fight back with their picks, shovels and any discarded weapons they could find. One American engineer was observed felling five enemy attackers with his shovel before he was killed. The 11th Engineer Regiment thereafter proudly proclaimed that they were the first American unit to engage the foe.”

    Thanks for the free plug.

  4. Richard August 24, 2015 / 4:47 pm

    Maybethis is off-topic, but it reminds me of reading I’ve recently done about George Grey Barnard’s statue of Abraham Lincoln placed in Cincinnati in 1917. A copy was to be sent to London to commemorate 100 years of peaceful relations since the end of the War of 1812, but many people, including Robert Lincoln, thought it was too ugly and not “statesman-like” enough so St. gaudens’ statue was sent instead. Who controls a person’s or event’s memory and decides how it will be displayed publicly? I suppose that is why we have committees, but reading on such strongly opposing opinions on the Lincoln statue has that question in my mind and that seems to apply to this monument too. Who decides what message this generation will send to the future about our collective memory of World War I?

  5. Cotton Boll Conspiracy August 27, 2015 / 10:51 am

    I prefer the World War I Memorial Concept. It’s a dominating monument, which seems fitting giving the impact the conflict had on the 20th century. I do hope that whichever proposal is chosen, it doesn’t focus solely on US involvement in the war. It’s rather difficult to get an understanding of the significance and scope of World War I if one only looks at it from the impact it had on the US.

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