Until last month our country had no national memorial commemorating World War I.
In 1919 Congress debated constructing such a memorial, but aside from creating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, nothing was done. So, after the war it was up to towns and cities across the country to decide how to remember their dead. Some erected statues or plaques. Others tried a new form of remembrance called living memorials. These were places that commemorate the dead by having a practical function – such as a park, hospital, or clock tower. If your town has a place called Memorial Stadium, Memorial Auditorium, or Memorial Hospital, chances are it was named to remember war dead.
WWI was a new type of war and it was pure savagery. Both the UK and France each lost more than a million people. So, when the war ends on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, those countries lost an entire generation of young men. The US was in the war for a bit more than a year in 1917 and 1918, but its losses were still significant: 117,000 dead.
The last WWI veteran, Frank Buckles of West Virginia, died at 110 years in 2011. And very few people are still alive when the war was fought. So, for me, the largest question about this memorial is: Why now? I think there are two reasons. First, there is no time statute of limitations on honoring service to one’s country. For instance, it took us 59 years to decide to memorialize the sacrifices made in WWII. Second, I believe we collectively long for a time when our wars were decisively won, with us as the victors, and with an exact end time. Such as the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.