U.S. marks 100th anniversary of entering the Great War

As French Air Force jets flew overhead trailing red, white and blue smoke, dignitaries, soldiers and citizens from America and its World War I allies gathered on April 6 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the day the United States entered “the war to end all wars.”

The ceremony took place at the National World War I Memorial and Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, beneath the Liberty Memorial Tower honoring those who died in the conflict that decimated Europe for three years before the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

“It has not been raised to commemorate war and victory but rather the results of war and victory which are embodied in peace and liberty,” said Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer, reading the words of President Calvin Coolidge at the tower’s dedication in 1926.

The U.S. role

Initially, the United States remained neutral, despite Germany’s sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania in 1915. But after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and sought to induce Mexico to attack the United States, President Woodrow Wilson declared the nation must fight to make the world “safe for democracy.”

The Great War began with armies still deploying cavalry units and ended with tanks and machine-gun-wielding aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel, the Fokker Scourge and SPADs, plus Zeppelin airships that carried out bombing runs.

The war, fought across trenches and and forests in France and Germany, was stalemated before the United States joined the battle. Millions of civilians were also cut off from food, so even before entering the fighting, the Americans sent tons of relief supplies to Europe.

The U.S. had just 130,000 troops in April 1917, but quickly instituted a draft and mobilized 4 million soldiers. Two million soldiers, who became known as “doughboys,” were shipped to Europe. Some of the 100,000 who gave their lives are buried in Flanders Field in Belgium. Hundreds of volunteer Red Cross nurses also perished.

Nine million combatants and 5 million civilians were killed in the war, which ended with Germany’s surrender on November 11, 1918.

Memorializing the war

While there are thousands of memorials in town squares across America, Kansas City’s was among the first to mark World War I, with citizens raising $2.5 million in 1919 to build the 66-meter Liberty Memorial Tower with its view of the Kansas City skyline.

Five Allied commanders, including General John “Black Jack” Pershing and Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, attended the memorial’s 1921 groundbreaking.

The recent ceremony (April 6) began with a flyover by the Patrouille de France — the French aerial acrobatic team — and featured patriotic music; readings from diaries, letters and wartime debates; a moment of silence; and an artillery salute.

It ended with a stirring rendition of the patriotic anthem “Over There” after a B-2 Spirit bomber flew overhead.