The National World War I Memorial in the Nation’s Capital Consists of Several Elements.
In 1981 the Pershing Park site was dedicated as the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Memorial, erected by the American Battle Monuments Commission in honor of the AEF and their commander (and ABMC’s first chairman), General John Pershing. The original AEF Memorial remains in the southeast corner of the memorial. The walls flanking the Pershing statue bear text reciting the accomplishments of the AEF and a tribute from General Pershing to his troops, as well as battle maps of the Western Front and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest battle of American troops in the war which culminated in the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
As part of the rededication of Pershing Park as the National World War I Memorial, new commemorative elements are being added. In addition to the central sculpture “A Soldier’s Journey,” the new elements include, on the reverse of the sculpture, the Peace Fountain, a cascade of water behind an excerpt from the poem “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak” by Archibald MacLeish. The poem is a call to peace to give meaning to the sacrifice of those killed in the war. (MacLeish was a U.S. artillery officer during World War I, and later Librarian of Congress and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. HIs brother died in the war and is buried at Flanders Field American Cemetery.)
The belvedere, located at the northeast corner of the memorial, bears a series of interpretive panels. In the center of the belvedere is a medallion depicting an allegorical figure of Victory, as portrayed on the medals awarded to members of the AEF and other Allied forces. Inscribed along the front of the belvedere are the names of the major campaigns for which Army and Navy units were awarded battle streamers.
President Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I, with his famous call to Congress in April 1917 that “The world must be made safe for democracy.” The inscription here comes from a speech Wilson gave two years later, on Memorial Day, 1919, after the war was over and America and its Allies victorious. Speaking at Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris (the first overseas U.S. military cemetery), Wilson articulated America’s altruistic motivations for entering the war, and an idealism that would influence American foreign policy for the next 100 years.
The final element is a pair of quotations inscribed in planter boxes on the north side of the park. One, from Willa Cather’s World War I novel One of Us, is a testament to the achievements and sacrifices of American armed forces in the war. The other, from Alta May Andrews of the Army Nurse Corps, speaks of her own pride in having a chance to serve, and more broadly for the contributions of all marginalized American citizens – women, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, and other minorities – to the American war effort.
Construction of the World War I Memorial Began on December 19, 2019.