Karin Markert | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
More than 3,000 guests attended the National World War I Centennial Commemoration on the grounds of the Liberty Memorial and National World War I Museum April 6 in Kansas City, Mo.
The day-long observance included participants from eight countries and representatives from all military services. Members of the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard from Fort Riley, Kan., presented the national colors at the beginning of the ceremony, and later the 1st Infantry Division Band performed “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Over There.”
The French Air Force’s Patrouille de France and a U.S. Air Force B-2 Stealth Bomber conducted flyovers over the event, and 75mm howitzers were fired by the Missouri National Guard’s 129th Field Artillery Regiment, “Truman’s Own.”
Representatives from 27 nations, including those from the Allied Forces and Central Powers, attended the observance.
Col. Peter Little, British Army liaison officer to the Combined Arms Center, accompanied Stephen Bridges, United Kingdom Consul General at Chicago and Dr. Andrew Murrison, a member of Parliament who attended as the U.K. prime minister’s special representative.
“The iconic memorial and fantastic National World War I Museum provided the most fitting backdrop to commemorate the centenary of the United States of America entering World War I,” Little said. “The ceremony demonstrated enormous style and imagination, with some extremely moving reflections from 1917.”
Relating to the United State’s entry into the World War, Little observed, “Two and a half years of fighting had left much of Europe and the wider world devastated, with unthinkable levels of human suffering and loss of life. The entry of the United States of America into World War I on April 6, 1917, did not only have a huge physical impact on the course of the war with millions of new troops entering the fight, but also an incredible psychological effect as a powerful new nation joined the cause to seek an end to the suffering.”
While the European war began in 1914, the United States did not enter the conflict until 1917, after Germany continued unrestricted submarine attacks on American ships.
Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff Officer Course had closed before America’s entry into World War I during the Mexican Punitive Expedition because the Army could not otherwise provide enough officers to support the border control. The operation effectively became a training ground for World War I mobilization, because most of the U.S. Army was either in Mexico or on the border by the winter of 1916-1917. The strength of the active Army in 1916 was near 125,000 personnel. By 1918, the strength of all Army forces was closer to 3.5 million personnel.
Page 2 of 2 - According to Dr. Peter J. Schifferle, professor of history for the School of Advanced Military Studies, President Woodrow Wilson entered the United States into war not as one of the nine allied nations, but as an associate power. Wilson did not want the U.S. contribution tied to the old European way of secret treaties and war reparations.
In his book, “America’s School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education, and Victory in World War II,” Schifferle writes that the U.S. military officers were grossly unprepared for a large modern war, and vowed never to be caught short and professionally embarrassed again. The content and intent of CGSC curriculum throughout the two decades between World War I and World War II were strongly affected by the lessons learned by the Armed Expeditionary Forces involvement in World War I.
Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer was also at the commemoration.
“As we reflect on the First World War and its lessons, I think of the ways in which our modern Army was created in this conflict,” Speer said. “Our units, our methods of leadership and organization, and even how we fight came into being as America, for the first time, projected and sustained millions of its sons and daughters overseas for years of warfare.”
Laura Brown, wife of Maj. Jim Brown, Mission Command Training Program, attended the World War I commemoration. As Brown listened to the speeches and watched the video presentations, she had time to reflect on more personal changes in battle since World War I.
“When men went to war, communication was with a letter which may or may not get to its intended destination,” she said. “Nowadays, daily communication and video conferencing keep us ever engaged with our soldiers.”
Video and more information from the National World War I Centennial Commemoration can be viewed online at www.worldwar1centennial.org.