Arlington WWI commemoration

Frank O’Leary and Jim Pebley pose in World War I-era helmets at the June 28, 2018, Arlington Historical Society commemoration of the county’s participation in the war. (Photo by Peter F. Wehmann)

Veterans of six U.S. military conflicts were on hand June 28 as the Arlington Historical Society paid homage to county residents who fought, and died, in what was termed – ultimately incorrectly – the war to end all wars.

“Arlington Remembers the Great War” served as a fund-raiser for the Arlington World War I Commemorative Task Force, which is continuing its efforts in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the end of the conflict in November.

“When America joined that war, it changed the very nature of America’s relationship with the world,” said Jim Pebley, a retired U.S. Navy aviator and longtime civic leader who trekked up from his retirement home in North Carolina for the festivities, held at the Navy League.

“America began growing up to become a global power for peace as a defender of democracy – [and] as we strengthened our forces for freedom’s defense, Arlington became an epicenter for our military,” Pebley said.

Long associated with the national cemetery that bears the county’s name, Arlington also (in 1908) played host to the birth of U.S. military aviation when Orville Wright participated in Army trials at Fort Myer. The county also was home in the first half of the 20th century to the U.S. Navy’s most powerful radio transmitters, and later – as World War II loomed – the community was selected to serve as the home of the Pentagon.

Pebley is among those active in supporting the USS Arlington, which since 2013 has been serving on the high seas as a landing platform dock, able to dispatch U.S. Marines to world hot-spots or on humanitarian missions across the globe.

Pebley noted that more than 20,000 New Yorkers visited the ship during recent Fleet Week activities in Manhattan.

But the main focus of the June 28 event was on World War I. Attendees sang Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” written during the war, and Jari Villanueva, the “Taps” bugler for the 3rd U.S. Infantry’s Old Guard, performed on his 1917 bugle. A color guard consisting of Jennifer Slade of the Arlington County Fire Department, Kip Malcolm of the Arlington County Fire Department and Karl VanNewkirk of the Arlington Historical Society were attired as doughboys.

The exact number of residents of Arlington (known until 1920 as Alexandria County) who served in the war is unknown but estimated at 200 – a sizable contingent from a county whose population during the era was around 16,000.

County residents who were killed in the conflict 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.

Frank O’Leary, who organized the fund-raising celebration, said the work of the county’s World War I Commemoration Committee was focused and well-led.

“The Arlington County Board made a great decision when it appointed Dr. Allison Finkelstein to chair the task force,” said O’Leary, the former county treasurer. “They could not have found a more appropriate or capable person.”

Finkelstein delivered remarks at the event, as did Mark Benbow of Marymount University, while representatives from Opera Nova performed. Also honored were students who won a World War I-themed essay competition.

Arlington officials are still finalizing plans for events to conclude the commemoration of the war, which started in 1914 and which the U.S. joined in 1917. Hostilities ended on Nov. 11, 1918, concluding a conflagration that consumed some 18 million military and civilian lives worldwide, caused the destruction of a number of empires on both sides of the battle and, despite efforts of world leaders to conclude a lasting peace, laid the groundwork for a far greater world war just 21 years later.

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