The monument was erected just 300 meters from the White House in the park that bears the name of General John Pershing.
The opening of the National World War I Memorial this spring in the center of the American capital confirmed the claim that in Washington, monuments to major military conflicts of the XX century are built-in reverse chronological order.
So, the first Memorial in honor of Vietnam War veterans appeared in 1982, followed by the Memorial in honor of Korean War Veterans in 1995, and then in 2004 – the National Memorial of World War II.
All of these monuments are located on the National Mall-the central boulevard of the capital, where the Capitol is located, as well as the main museums and historical monuments of Washington. The World War I memorial was erected a little further away, in the heart of the capital – just 300 meters from the White House-in a park that bears the name of General John Pershing, who commanded the approximately two million-strong Expeditionary Force of the US Armed Forces. “The option of building a monument on the National Mall was discussed but was not accepted. Here, next to the White House, Pershing Park was established in 1981, and Pershing’s sculpture was installed in 1983. We decided that the park in honor of the general who participated in the First World War will be a wonderful place,” the commission for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the US entry into the First World War (the organization was engaged in the creation of a memorial complex) told.
It is noteworthy that the park was popular for a long time when its territory was flooded under the ice rink. However, in 2006, due to technical problems, this had to be abandoned. Nevertheless, this place was not immediately forgotten, employees of the nearest office buildings began to gather here during lunch, which led to the fact that garbage began to accumulate in huge quantities on the territory of the park. Nevertheless, over time, the park fell into disrepair.
“We believe that the Pershing statue was not enough to commemorate the soldiers who died in the First World War. For this, a full-fledged memorial complex was needed, as in the case of the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War,” the commission explained. The interlocutor of the agency also recalled that in the American capital in 1931, a small memorial was built dedicated to the residents of Washington who participated in the First World War. “This is a beautiful monument, but we needed a national memorial to honor all the Americans who participated in this war,” the commission said.
The city authorities and the Congress, which is obliged to grant permission for the construction of national memorials, have long argued not only about the location of the World War I memorial, but even about the very need for its creation. The fact is that in Kansas City (Missouri) there is already a National Museum and a memorial to the First World War. In this regard, lawmakers from Missouri opposed this decision. Other politicians proposed to grant the status of a national memorial in honor of the residents of the American capital who participated in the war. The disputes dragged on for almost 15 years, and only in 2014, the country’s defense budget included a clause on the construction of a memorial on the territory of Pershing Park. The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, approved this decision and announced the establishment of a commission to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the US entry into World War I.
“Our goal was to build a memorial that would elevate the First World War in the minds of Americans,” the commission stressed. From the very beginning, the organizers advocated that the monument, “unlike other memorials, would also be a city park.”
The construction of the monument was initially estimated at $50 million. Since such a sum could not be collected in a short time, construction work was periodically postponed. So, in November 2017, the ceremony of the beginning of the construction of the monument was held, which at that time was going to open a year later – on November 11, 2018, to the centenary of the end of the First World War. President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 Armistice Day in 1919 to commemorate the first anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II. In 1926, the holiday was included among other national celebrations. Then in 1954, it was renamed Veterans Day in memory of all the soldiers who died in different periods of American history.
However, in November 2018, the project of the national memorial was only presented on the territory of the park, which by that time was planned to open in November of this year, when the 100th anniversary of the return of the remains of the unknown soldier of the First World War to the United States will be celebrated. “Due to the lack of funds, the construction works and the opening of the memorial were postponed several times. Construction eventually cost $42 million. We still have about $1 million left to collect,” the commission said.
About the memorial
Even after the official opening ceremony, in which two F-22 fighter jets flew over the center of the capital, the memorial was never completed. On one of its walls, there is still no long bronze bas-relief depicting figure of soldiers leaving their homes and relatives, going to war, fighting, dying, and then returning to their loved ones. The 17.6-meter-long sculpture will be called “The Soldier’s Way” and, according to the organizers, is intended to “convey the story of the country’s transformation from an isolationist to a leader on the world stage.” At the moment, it is not known when it will be installed. Now in its place hangs a canvas depicting the future bas-relief.
A small pond appeared in front of the wall on which the sculptural composition should be depicted. Stone walls were also erected next to Pershing’s statue, one of which depicts maps of military operations in which the Americans took part. On a small area in the center of the memorial, the names of regions and regions where US citizens also fought are marked, there are also inscriptions “North of Russia,” “Siberia.” “The US Army Expeditionary Force took part in the intervention in Siberia and the Far East. He arrived there before the end of the war,” the commission explained.