Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Inscriptions for America's National World War One Memorial

Memorial Day 2019

Detail from Main Sculpture by Howard Sabin

In the late summer of 2017 at the request of the United States World War One Centennial Commission, I asked our readers to propose appropriated inscriptions for the National WWI Memorial planned for Pershing Square in Washington, DC. Subsequently, I forwarded nearly one hundred suggestions to the commission's Vice-Chairman, Edwin Fountain.  This week Mr. Fountain shared the final selections with me and ask me to pass these on to you. While none of our proposals made the final list, he expressed great appreciation and thanks for our efforts.  In future postings, I'll  also be sharing some of our readers ideas, but for now—here are the quotes that will appear on the memorial when it is completed.

Informational Kiosk with AEF Campaigns & Victory Medal Inscribed

From General Pershing

In their devotion, their valor, and in the loyal fulfillment of their obligations, the officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces have left a heritage of which those who follow may ever be proud.
  • From General Pershing's Memoir, My Experiences in the World War

From  Veteran Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish
We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning. We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.

  • From the  poem "THE YOUNG DEAD SOLDIERS DO NOT SPEAK," written in 1941 for a memorial service for staff members of the Library of Congress who died in the war
  • MacLeish served as an ambulance driver and then artillery officer in WWI; fought in the Second Battle of the Marne
  • His brother Kenneth was a naval aviator. Shot down over Belgium in October 1918, buried at Flanders Field American Cemetery.
  • Librarian of Congress, 1939–44, then assistant secretary of state for public affairs.
  • Also served as director of the War Department's Office of Facts and Figures and assistant director of the Office of War Information.  Developed the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS, which became the CIA.
  • Three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize (twice for poetry, once for drama)

How President Wilson's Words Will Be Inscribed

From President Woodrow Wilson

Never before have men crossed the seas to a foreign land to fight for a cause which they did not pretend was peculiarly their own, but knew was the cause of humanity and of mankind.  

  • Woodrow Wilson, Memorial Day address, 30 May 1919
  • Delivered at the American cemetery at Suresnes outside Paris, during the Versailles peace negotiations

From Author Willa Cather
Willa Cather

They were mortal, but they were unconquerable.

  • From Willa Cather, One of Ours (1922:453), which also won the Pulitzer Prize.
  • Protagonist Claude Wheeler is partly based on Cather’s  cousin, Grosvenor Cather, who was killed at Cantigny in May 1918 and received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Display of Willa Cather's Quote

From Nurse Alto May Andrews

Alto May Andrew's ID Card

If it has to be that this world must be embroiled in a tremendous “War to end Wars,” I am glad that I, too, may play a part in it.

  • Alta May Andrews (quoted in Andrew Carroll (ed.), "My Fellow Soldiers" (2017: 230))
  • From Illinois; shipped to France in April 1918, first as an American Red Cross nurse and then in the Army Nurse Corps
  • Worked the night shift at American Hospital No. 1 in Neuilly outside Paris, caring for 70 men at a time
  • Treated wounded soldiers from Belleau Wood and other battles
  • Met President Wilson in December 1918 when he visited her hospital
  • Served for two years; continued nursing WWI soldiers after she returned to the U.S. in April 1919—and re-enlisted during WWII at the age of 51


  1. Thanks for communicating this information; I look forward to reading readers' suggestions that weren't chosen.

  2. A good set.
    (Cather's novel ends so weirdly. Pro-war, after 1918, which is unusual.)