Culture

Doughboys Get Their Due

They cried, “Vive l’Amèrique!” In June 1917, the first doughboys landed in France. This year, on Monday, January 25, we’ll learn what kind of national monument there will be to mark their service—a century after our boys went over there.

That’s right. There are national monuments marking the service and sacrifice of Americans in World War IIthe Korean War, and Vietnam. For the First World War, not so much.

More than four million Americans served in the Great War. Although American troops were at the front for less than a year, they paid a heavy price—116,516 died, 204,002 were wounded. These numbers don’t include the hidden wounds of war that today we classify as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

When the boys came back, all didn’t go so well. Jobs were scarce. Unemployment was high. Congress established the Veterans’ Bureau to help out and also provide hospital treatment. Wracked by corruption and scandal, the bureau was dissolved nine years later. Then the Depression hit. When veterans marched on Washington in 1932 demanding to cash in their bonuses, they were driven out by cavalry on horseback.

And while communities all over the country (including the District of Columbia)  raised funds to build memorials for their boys, there was no place of national remembrance.

Now that’s about to change.

The World War I Centennial Commission is poised to unveil the final design for the national World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. The announcement ceremony at the National Press Club will include Sandra Pershing (granddaughter-in-law to General “Black Jack” Pershing who command the Americans in Europe) and Libby O’Connell (chief historian for the History Channel).

The memorial will be erected in downtown DC at Pershing Park (one block from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, adjacent to the historic Willard hotel).

Plans are to complete the memorial in time to mark the centennial of the war.

Finally, we’ll have a place over here to remember the doughboys that went over there.