Protecting our future by remembering our past
WWI Centennial Commission Commissioner John Monahan speaks during Day 1 of The American Legion 103rd National Convention at the Milwaukee Center in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Photo by Jeric Wilhelmsen/The American Legion

Protecting our future by remembering our past

Commissioner of the U.S. World War I (WWI) Centennial Commission, John D. Monahan, delivered remarks at The American Legion’s 103rd National Convention. A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army and member of American Legion Post 18 in Essex, Conn., Monahan spoke of the heroism and legacy of those who fought in the war.

“It was the war that changed the world,” he said. “They had been imbued with a fervor for service toward achieving a public good.

“They sought to channel this energy, enthusiasm and public spirit in ways that would strengthen the nation both physically and morally.”

That spirit led to the establishment of The American Legion and a lasting legacy of service.

Until recently, there was no memorial in the nation’s capital dedicated to the service and sacrifice of the 4.7 million Americans who answered the call to serve their country during WWI, including the 116,516 who gave their lives in service.

“Due to the generosity of The American Legion and other like-minded, patriotic and civic organizations…our World War I Memorial is now open to the public,” said Monahan. 

The WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. was unveiled to the public for the first time in April 2021 — more than 100 years after the war ended and 10 years after America's last known World War I veteran, Cpl. Frank Buckles, died in 2011.

“Now we have a place to remember them,” Monahan said.

In a solemn tribute honoring the Americans who served in WWI, a lone bugler dressed in a WWI-period Doughboy uniform sounds Taps at the memorial every evening at 5 p.m. Taps is dedicated each evening to an individual, many of whom are Legionnaires, Monahan told the crowd.

The commission also developed mobile apps to aid visitors to the memorial, but also to allow those who have been unable to visit the site in person to experience the memorial through an augmented reality. The WWI Visitor Guide and Virtual Explorer apps allow people to interact with the stories and history of WWI in innovative ways. The apps can be found by searching “WWI Memorial” in Android or Apple app stores.

“The commission has partnered with Verizon to distribute these materials to 30 million children over the next few years and at no cost to the students,” Monahan said.

The memorial has had over 1 million visitors so far, but it is not yet complete, Monahan said. “The memorial’s centerpiece and focal point of remembrance — the sculpture of A Soldier’s Journey — is in the final stages of being sculpted, cast in bronze and assembled,” he said.     

The sculpture by Sabin Howard is scheduled to be installed in 2024 and will be the largest free-standing bronze relief sculpture in the Western hemisphere. It will feature 38 figures depicting the journey of an American soldier as he departs home and transforms as he encounters the horrors of trench warfare and his triumphant return home. At the end of the sculpture, the soldier symbolically hands his helmet his daughter, and the burden of the defense of democracy and freedom to the next generation.