What better way to honor those who died in the nation’s wars than remembering their sacrifices and reflecting on the world they inhabited?
That’s the concept behind a series of educational panels that will be erected in Clarendon Park, not far from Arlington’s official war memorial.
“Let us teach our neighbors . . . breathe life into this too-often overlooked memorial,” said Allison Finkelstein, who chairs the county’s World War I Commemoration Task Force, at a Nov. 11 Veterans Day ceremony that also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of fighting in World War I.
The first interpretive panel was unveiled at the event, with more on the horizon. Finkelstein said she hoped they would provide “a history lesson in the park – history from the bottom up.”
“Arlington changed during each war,” she said. “These panels will bring [that change] to life.”
The Nov. 11 ceremony included a minute of silence at 11 a.m., the time a century before that guns fell silent across European battlefields and ended “a conflict so bloody and horrific, some optimistically referred to it as ‘the war to end all wars,’” said Linden Dixon, a past commander both of American Legion Post 139 and the American Legion Department of Virginia.
Remembering the sacrifices of those who fought in all wars back to the Revolution is an opportunity to “renew our pledge of loyalty to our country and our flag,” Dixon said at the ceremony, which drew about 200 people.
Though seen today through the lens of grainy black-and-white films and no longer having any living participants – the last American veteran died in 2011 – World War I remains something that impacts the lives of everyone on the planet, Finkelstein said.
“This is not some ancient war,” she said. “We are still living in the shadow of the First World War. It is a conflict that continues to shape the world we live in.”
The exact number of residents of Arlington (known until 1920 as Alexandria County) who served in the war is unknown but estimated at 200. It was a sizable contingent from a county whose population during the era was around 16,000.
County residents known to have died in military service during the conflict – although not all in combat – included Arthur Morgan, Ralph Lowe, John Lyon, Henry Smallwood, Robert Bruce, Harry Stone, Irving Newman, Harry Vermillion, Edward Smith, Frank Dunkin and Oscar Housel of the Army and Archie Williams and Frederick Schutt of the Navy. Research is ongoing on several other potential cases that previously had been lost to history.
Those from Arlington were among more than 116,000 Americans who died during the two years the nation was embroiled in World War I – a total higher than the deaths in the Korean and Vietnam wars, combined.
The U.S. entered the war in 1917 after it had been raging for more than two years. Estimates are spotty, but it’s thought that about 65 million served in uniform among the combatants, with deaths from combat, accidents and disease pegged at just under 10 million.
The initial interpretive panel placed in Clarendon Park focuses on the war memorial itself. Future panels will look at those who served in wars of the past century, and how those conflicts changes lives on the home front.
There will be no changes to the Clarendon War Memorial itself, as state law effectively prohibits alterations of monuments to military dead. Owned by American Legion Post 139, the monument originally was erected in the Courthouse area in the 1920s and was moved to its present location in the 1930s.