This Saturday I had the distinct honor of attending a trade show sponsored by participants in the US World War One Centennial Commission. I attended for the League of World War One Aviation Historians. I was supposed to be an alternate but got pulled in. I was lucky, another board member, artist Russell Smith was there along with Washington DC Area Chapter Leader and one of the Smithsonian gurus on the war, Carl Bobrow was there too.
I was not sure what to expect. Most American’s have a distorted view about the Great War. Oh, the Civil War or WWII, they know all about those. The Great War – much less so. Part of that is understandable – the United States (as a nation) basically showed up late to the dance – arriving in 1917 after three years of war already. Our time in battle was brief – the war ended in Armistice in November of 1918. We spent more time at the peace talks than we did in combat.
But American’s were in the war starting in 1914. Forty-three Americans volunteered to serve in the French Foreign Legion the month war was declared against France. Many joined the American Ambulance Service as well. These brave young men were engaged in battle for years before the US formally arrived. Many went into the French Air Service and became the heart and soul of the American Air Service, seeding it with seasoned combat veterans from the Lafayette Flying Corps and the Lafayette Escadrille. The US Air Force was not born in the US – it was born on the bloody skies of France before the United States had even declared war.
This was my first congressional commission and I was impressed. I met a lot of people and it felt like everyone wanted to partner with our organization in some way shape or form. The commission itself is a confederation of participants. With no formal funding (another spark of brilliance by our illustrious Congress) they are a clearing house of sorts for any organization coordinating their activities related to the 100th anniversary of the war.
Here’s their site: http://worldwar-1centennial.org/
We not only picked up some new members, some important connections were forged. There was a great spirit of cooperation. People were drawn in by Russell’s stunning artwork – and there is nothing more iconic for that war than the image of a biplane or triplane. I invite you to check out Russell’s works too. http://www.russellsmithart.com/ I am really excited about the PBS project on America’s First World War. Hopefully it will be more accurate than the History Channel’s recent debacle (it couldn’t possibly be any worse.)
Having been there, I realized that the American’s don’t fully appreciate the First World War. We’ve finally wrapped our hands around the Korean Conflict. Vietnam is a war whose perspective in the American psyche has changed dramatically in my lifetime. But the Great War is largely ignored. But with over 100,000 US dead in the war, victims of bullets, shrapnel and gas…we cannot afford to ignore this conflict. And while everyone is focused this year on the impetus of this conflict – we cannot simply take a second-seat the rest of the world in remembering this war. This conflict changed the United States in many ways, ways which the commission will be engaging American’s to learn about.
Check out their web page and take part in the commemoration. We cannot forget the men and women who fought in the Great War, nor diminish their contribution to our nation. I strongly encourage you to join the League of WWI Aviation Historians as well. We have a big event in September in Dayton that runs right into the Dawn Patrol event at the Museum of the US Air Force.
Folks – it is time to get our history on!