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World War I Centennial Commission Seeks National Memorial

By Amaani Lyle DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, July 22, 2015 — Members of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission met yesterday with members of Congress to bolster support for commemorating the war through education and enduring observance of Americans’ sacrifices that shaped the modern world.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, three-time Purple Heart recipient and the commission’s senior advisor for development, noted that while some 2.5 million veterans served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces have a much longer, storied journey and a seminal role in American history.

“This nation is primarily [one] of business, human rights, families and religious groups,” the retired general said. “But at the end of the day, the only reason it persists after 200-plus years is the armed forces. [They] were created before the country existed.”

Core Project

The commission’s core project is to establish and manage the design, competition, selection and construction process for the World War I Memorial in the nation’s capital, with a goal to break ground on Veterans Day 2017 and hold the official dedication in 2018.

“Many decades have passed since the guns fell silent,” said retired Army Col. Robert J. Dalessandro, the commission’s chairman and the host for yesterday’s event. “The parades and the memorials have become a dim memory in many cases -- and before long, the doughboys themselves and the folks back home became a forgotten generation of Americans.”

In some cases, Dalessandro said, World War I service members’ lives were sold cheaply, and their notions of idealism became seemingly quaint by today’s standards. “But they bridged the gap between the Gilded Era and the Jazz Age,” he said. “They watched the fall of empires in bewildered awe, and they dreadfully witnessed the rise of communism, of fascism, of Nazism, while birthing that Greatest Generation.”

With a father who fought in Italy and uncles who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and Java Sea during World War II, McCaffrey acknowledged the rightful respect for their generation. But he urged current veterans to remember that America emerged as a world power in World War I.

U.S. Service Members Ended World War I

“A lot of times you read in history that [U.S. troops] came in at the tail end of the war and won it due to a psychological factor,” McCaffrey said. “It wasn’t psychological. This ended the war -- the American engagement -- and brought tremendous power to the U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors.

McCaffrey estimated the memorial would cost between $20 million and $25 million.

Congress created the World War I Centennial Commission in 2013 and gave it permission to use appropriated funds, but the commission was never provided with an appropriation.

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)