New Exhibit Opens at Arlington National Cemetery through Joint Effort with ABMC
A new exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) marking the 100th anniversary of American involvement in World War I officially opened to the public today. As a joint effort between ANC and the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), this exhibit in the visitor center highlights the history of the war, its long-term effects, and the roles of ANC and ABMC.
The exhibit, which includes photos, artifacts, and videos, takes the visitor from 1914 through the end of the war in 1918, and then to post-war America and how the government chose to honor our fallen. To present a fuller story of how the conflict changed American society, the exhibit also covers the role of African-Americans and women during the war, the revolution in military technology, and the evolving concept of what it meant to commemorate those who paid the last full measure of devotion. “World War I changed America dramatically and forever,” said Robert J. Dalessandro, ABMC Acting Secretary, and Chairman of the U.S. WWI Centennial Commission. “The service in our armed forces of African-Americans, immigrants, and women, working in the military, in industry at home, and providing humanitarian service abroad, served as the kindling that sparked a wildfire of change in American society.”
With more than four million Americans in military service during World War I, and more than 115,000 who lost their lives, the effects of the Great War cannot be understated. Americans viewed this experience of war and loss as very personal, and expected the government to commemorate and honor the war dead. In turn, World War I laid the foundation for the creation of ABMC, and the Tomb of the Unknown at ANC—both defining decisions by the American government regarding how we, as a nation, honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Because the United States had not been involved in such an expansive, global conflict prior to World War I, the need to honor the fallen from a large-scale overseas war in an appropriate manner did not surface until after the Armistice. The government had to set a precedent that fell in line with the American ideals soldiers fought to defend in the trenches in Europe.
ABMC, originally created to construct memorials in Europe, eventually evolved to be the caretaker of America’s overseas military cemeteries from World War I and World War II. While ANC was established during the Civil War, commemorating the sacrifices of all Unknown Soldiers in a representational tomb was in part inspired from how the English and French honored unidentified soldiers after World War I. Now, nearly 100 years later, the hallowed grounds of ABMC cemeteries and ANC serve as world-wide examples of the reverence and respect given to Americans who serve and die as a member of the Armed Forces.
ABMC and ANC have an intertwined history of World War I commemoration. In this sense, it is appropriate that at the centennial of the war, this joint exhibit showcases not just our American history, but how different agencies of the federal government can work together to tell our American story. “Throughout the 1920s and 30s, these two organizations [ANC and ABMC] began a partnership that has grown stronger and stronger ever since,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director, Army National Military Cemeteries. “In fact, four of the first five Chairmen of ABMC are buried here at Arlington, including General John J. Pershing and General George C. Marshall. This is a partnership that we here at ANC value greatly and look forward to it continuing.”
The exhibit will run throughout the course of the World War I Centennial, and visitors have direct access as they come through the primary entrance at the cemetery.
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC administers 26 overseas military cemeteries, and 27 memorials, monuments, and markers.