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WWI Commissioner: 'We owe doughboys and our founders a debt'

United States World War One Centennial Commissioner Jack Monahan of Connecticut addresses The American Legion's 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev. Photo by Clay Lomneth/The American Legion

U.S. entry into World War I a little over a century ago, in April 1917, was the first step in what would become known as “the American century,” United States World War One Centennial Commissioner Jack Monahan of Connecticut told thousands of veterans gathered Wednesday in Reno, Nev., for the 99th National Convention of The American Legion.

“The cataclysm of the First World War changed everything,” said Monahan, The American Legion’s representative on the national commission. “Empires fell. The social and moral fabric of Europe was torn asunder. War was systematized and mechanized, resulting in death and destruction on an unprecedented scale.” He noted that of the 4.7 million Americans who served during the war, some 200,000 were wounded and more than 116,000 were killed or went missing.

The Great War, as it was then known, also brought into existence The American Legion, which quickly grew to become the nation’s largest veterans organization, a rank it continues to hold. That is why the World War I centennial and The American Legion legacy are tightly intertwined, Monahan explained.

“Why is this important to The American Legion? The spirit of the doughboy – his courage, character, values and ideals, was the spirit, tempered in the crucible of combat, which formed the values of The American Legion. We Legionnaires stand on the shoulders of the giants who were our founders, all World War I veterans.”

The commission and The American Legion have been working together on multiple fronts, Monahan said, including:

- Development and dissemination of a national program to help educators inform students of all ages about World War I and its many effects and to stimulate deeper research. The American Legion provided sponsorship support help with the “train-the-teacher” initiative, Monahan said.

- Establishment of 42 state-level World War I centennial commissions, encouraged and well-represented by American Legion members, whose thousands of posts established after World War I provide a wealth of opportunities to learn more and explore the war’s story.

- The 100 Cities/100 Memorials program, co-sponsored by the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, provides grants to local community groups that restore World War I memorials. “Many American Legion posts participated and even joined forces with VFW posts on these projects,” Monahan said.

- Participation and co-sponsorship, including a presentation by American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt, at international ceremonies April 6, 2017, in Kansas City to honor the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into World War I.

- Media sharing between the United States World War One Centennial Commission and The American Legion’s 100th Anniversary Observance Committee, including collaboration during the convention in Reno to clean, visit and conduct a ceremony at the grave of Thomas W. Miller, a World War I lieutenant colonel and founding member of The American Legion, who famously gaveled to order the final day of the organization’s formative Paris Caucus on March 17, 1919.

Monahan wrapped up his presentation by calling on American Legion Family members to learn more and support the National World War I Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington, D.C. Ground is scheduled to be broken Nov. 9, and dedication ceremonies are planned for Nov. 11, 2018, which is inside The American Legion’s centennial window, September 2018 – November 2019.

“By remembering those who served in the Great War 100 years later, we assure those serving today that they, too, will be remembered 100 years from now,” Monahan said, asking Legion Family members to visit to learn more and help fund the project.

“The doughboys and the bluejackets of the Great War are our spiritual brothers and sisters,” Monahan said. “For this reason, we should be interested and concerned about World War One.

“Our mission today is to ensure that a fitting memorial to the doughboys – to those who bequeathed to us our beloved American Legion – is erected in our nation’s capital. I ask your help in achieving this. It must be done, and with your help and the grace of God, it shall be done.”