Remembering the War That Changed the World

by Courtland Jindra, California World War I Centennial Task Force co-director and amateur historian

This month we enter into the final year of a worldwide Centennial Commemoration of the war that changed the world.

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Two re-enactors from the Great War Historical Society take part in an event commemorating the centennial of the United States entry into World War I. The event was held April 6 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

On April 6th, 1917 the United States entered the First World War. A hundred years later, Americans have largely forgotten the tremendous sacrifice our country made in the conflict. On a national scale, 4.7 million American service members were mobilized and there were 116,516 fatalities. California alone sent over 122,000 of her sons and daughters into service and more than 3,400 died as a result. Their sacrifices deserve to be remembered.

The United States World War One Centennial Commission was created by Congress in 2013 to “ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of World War I.” To that end, the commission attempted to get every state in the country to form their own commemorative body. A volunteer-led group made up of scholars, historians and interested citizens formed and created the California WWI Centennial Task Force to try and guide efforts in the Golden State. The Task Force was recently given an official seal of approval by the State Legislature in a Resolution that overwhelmingly passed both chambers.Our slogan is “honoring, educating and commemorating.” We believe that all three are intimately related. By educating the populace about the First World War, we hope to honor the people of this state who, a hundred years ago, went thousands of miles across the globe to liberate much of Europe, much as their more famous sons and daughters would do in the following war.

Since its formation, the Task Force has managed to put on some nice programs. In April, we marked the centenary of our entry into war with programs at the Marine Memorial in San Francisco, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Claremont University. Our hope is to have more commemorations next November for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending the war.

Not everything has had our fingerprints on it. Various activities have been going on in California since at least 2014 – library lectures, exhibitions relating to The Great War at museums and art galleries, and local historical society programs to showcase their community’s efforts. Concerts with themes relating to The Great War have been performed. In 2015, there was a moving remembrance ceremony of the fire that killed General John J. Pershing’s wife and three daughters at the Presidio in San Francisco.

The state had multiple memorials selected for the National Commission’s 100/Cities/100 Memorials grant program to restore neglected WWI memorials. These included the California World War I Commemorative Plaque in Berkeley, the World War I Memorial Arch in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Chinese Americans Veterans Memorial in San Francisco and the Memorial Tablet at Victory Memorial Grove in Los Angeles. The state has literally hundreds of memorials to the Great War, many hidden in plain sight.

There are plans to establish a World War I Memorial at Pershing Park in the nation’s capitol. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site Nov. 9, which included U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and Centennial Commission Chair Terry Hamby.

We would love to be a clearinghouse of every WWI-related event in the state so it is recorded for posterity. If you have something in the works, or would like to get involved as a volunteer, please contact us. I can be reached at courtland.jindra@worldwar1centennial.org.

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Two WWI doughboy re-enactors stand in front of the commemorative plaque that marks the 50th anniversary of the Armistice ending combat in World War I.

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