Grass Roots Remembrance is Key
As was recently estimated by Mark Levitch, creator of the World War 1 Memorial Inventory Project, there may be as many as 10,000 WW1 monuments in various forms throughout the United States. There was not a single national memorial to the war dedicated in their lifetime, yet America’s Doughboy generation did leave their mark on our landscape; the memorials they left behind were often small, local reminders of their service and sacrifice in “The World War” and perhaps that is how they wanted it. As author Richard Rubin described in his book THE LAST OF THE DOUGHBOYS, America’s World War I veterans were “self-reliant, humble and stoic; never complaining, still marveling at the immensity of the war they helped win” and this perspective may be a key to understanding the predominantly local and often low-key character of American monuments to “The War to End All Wars.”
For the past several years it has been my privilege to be able to attend a long-standing WW1 memorial service in southeast Pennsylvania. Each Memorial Day Weekend, the Descendants and Friends of the 314th Infantry, AEF, gather at Valley Forge’s Washington Memorial Chapel to remember the achievements and sacrifices of this regiment of the 79th Infantry Division in World War I. Essentially a local event (the men of the 314th were predominantly from southeast Pennsylvania and Delaware), the 314th Infantry Memorial Service, like many of our WW1 monuments, is both simple and poignant, and in many ways it retains the spirit of America’s WW1 generation.
The site of the 314th Memorial Service was not chosen at random – for some 90 years, the Chapel grounds contained the 314th Infantry Cabin, a log structure which had originally been built at Camp Meade, Maryland in 1917 by the men of the regiment. After the war the cabin was purchased by the veterans, dismantled and reassembled at Valley Forge. Over the generations, the cabin served as the repository for the memorabilia, war trophies, and Doughboy memories of the 314thInfantry, the responsibility for which was handed down through the children and grandchildren of the 314th’s WW1 veterans. Today, the historic cabin awaits reassembly at Fort Meade in time for the post’s World War 1 centennial observances, although the descendants and friends of the 314thcontinue to gather each year in Valley Forge to remember. As Nancy Schaff, President of the 314thInfantry Descendants and Friends, observed in her welcoming remarks at the start of the service, the 2015 gathering was the 93rd annual service in honor of the 314th.
The 2015 service was presided over by the Reverend Roy Almquist, Rector of the Washington Memorial Chapel. Following the presentation of Colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem, Rev. Almquist offered prayers of remembrance for the men of the regiment before calling on 314th Descendants & Friends President Nancy Schaff , who welcomed the nearly 100 attendees and gave a brief update on the status of the cabin, as well as her work with the US World War One Centennial Commission and other partnering organizations such as The Western Front Association East Coast Branch and Saving Hallowed Ground.
The principal speaker at the service was COL Douglas Mastriano, PhD, of the US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. COL Mastriano is the author of Alvin York: a New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne and is also responsible for researching and creating a five-kilometer historic trail in France’s Argonne Forest which interprets York’s Medal of Honor exploits. In his remarks, COL Mastriano detailed Alvin York’s humble beginnings and early life struggles prior to World War I, comparing him with the Civil War’s Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who rose from obscurity to be the “Hero of Little Roundtop” on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Citing the modest beginnings of both men, COL Mastriano offered them as examples of what all Americans are capable of. In his remarks, he further described Corporal York’s role in capturing some 132 German prisoners on October 8, 1918, bringing home to the Valley Forge attendees a fresh look at the man within the context of America’s experience of World War I.
Following the conclusion of the service, attendees participated in the folding of a 20’X30’ United States’ Flag sponsored by the “Saving Hallowed Ground” project, before adjourning to the Patriot’s Hall for a light reception.
The remarkable cross-generational effort encompassing the 314th Infantry Memorial Service, the cabin and the artifact collection may be unique among WW1 memorial efforts in the United States. For nearly 100 years each Memorial Day Weekend, those with a connection to the Regiment have paused from their lives and gathered at Valley Forge to remember. Without a doubt the historic 314th cabin and its artifact collection have been the key to keeping the veterans and their descendants connected over the long span of time. As America’s WW1 centennial years approach, the prospect of the reappearance of the cabin as an historic structure at Fort George G. Meade seems particularly appropriate – in a sense, this structure which was preserved by motivated individuals acting on a local level will become an object of national celebration.