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WWI Group Asks Congress to Help Commemorate War

Poe discusses commemorating WWI. (Bridget Bowman/CQ Roll Call)
Poe discusses commemorating WWI. (Bridget Bowman/CQ Roll Call)

Braving the stifling humidity, a handful of members from the Marine Corps re-enactors unit donned their “doughboy” uniforms at the Capitol to bring attention to the commemoration of World War I.  

The “doughboys,” the term used for American soldiers in WWI, stood at attention Tuesday morning on the East Front as part of the WWI Centennial Commission’s event to raise awareness about the its plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of American involvement in the Great War. “At the commission we have an ambitious multi-year program aimed at fostering awareness and educating the American public on the triumphs and on the tragedies of this area,” said Robert J. Dalessandro, the commission’s chairman.  

Members of the commission will conduct 25 meetings with members of Congress over the next three days to educate lawmakers on the importance of commemorating WWI and request support for the commission’s funding. Vice Chairman Edwin Fountain estimated the commission would likely request $25 million to be doled out over the next five years to support commemoration efforts.  

“We think that compares favorably with the [money] that’s been allocated for the Vietnam 50th [anniversary],” Fountain said, pointing out that the Vietnam allocation involves $5 million to be doled out each year for 13 years. He also noted the amount “pales in comparison” to the funds European allies have spent on commemorating WWI.  

One of the commission’s senior advisers, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, will be leading a team for a third of the Hill meetings. “They’ve got to fund the thing,” McAffrey told CQ Roll Call after the news conference. “Otherwise you just can’t have the ability to communicate, to educate, to represent U.S. participation.”  

Apart from the request to fund the commission, the group is also looking for private funding for a WWI memorial in the District of Columbia. Lawmakers approved a memorial in Pershing Park, adjacent to the White House, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act last year, ending a 6-year effort to install a memorial in D.C.  

Fountain estimated the memorial would cost between $20 million and 25 million. The commission launched a design competition to the memorial in May, with the submission deadline set for Tuesday. After a lengthy review, the group is expected to announce the memorial design on Jan. 20, 2016.  

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, one of the most vocal proponents of a memorial, was the only member of Congress on hand at the news conference, and he sought to bring a human element to the effort.  

Standing next to a picture of the last living American veteran of WWI, Poe told the story of Frank Buckles, who fought in WWI and WWII, and lobbied members of Congress for a memorial before he passed away in 2011.  

“He had been to the Hill before his death and his purpose of being on the Hill to talk to me and other members of Congress … was so that his friends that died in World War I, have died since World War I, would not be forgotten,” Poe said.  

“As is said, the worst casualty of war is to be forgotten,” Poe later added. “And we will not let that occur and we will remember and honor those people of the WWI generation.”

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