An ongoing series of reports, articles, and news items about the Arlington
Sister City Association's programs and activities, plus news from its Sister Cities

                         May 25, 2018
Famous Author Shared World War I History with Arlingtonians

by Arlington-Reims Committee of ASCA

On April 28, 2018, the Arlington-Reims Committee of the Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) sponsored a lecture by Professor Mark D. Van Ells. The lecture was entitled, "Doughboy Battlefields:  A Visit to the Places Americans Fought During the First World War." This was the fourth in a series of lectures on World War I sponsored by ASCA. Approximately 50 people attended the lecture that was held at the Arlington Central Library.  A lively question and answer period followed the lecture.

Dr. Van Ells presenting on April 28, 2018

Before the lecture began, Dr. Allison Finkelstein, Chair of the Arlington World War I Commemoration Task Force, congratulated ASCA for the work in organizing these lectures on this War.

Elizabeth Veatch, Acting Chair of ASCA, also praised Anne-Marie Daris (former chair of the Arlington-Reims Committee) for organizing World War I lectures. Ms. Veatch then introduced Professor Van Ells, who is a professor of history at Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York, and the author of a book and many articles on World War I.

Professor Van Ells began his lecture by pointing out that prior to the United States' entrance into the War, the U.S. standing army was only 120,000 men. In the two years the US was in the War, the numbers rose to four and a half million.  Two million American soldiers were in Europe when the Armistice was signed, with many more men scheduled to go abroad had the fighting not ended.

U.S. forces began arriving in France the end of 1917.  At first, they saw limited action, and the first purely American offensive action did not occur until May 1918. Immediately thereafter, the US soldiers helped to stem a major German offensive, fighting extremely well, with the 3rd Division earning the title, "The Rock of the Marne." In June 1918 U.S. Marines engaged in the bloody month-long action at Belleau Wood.

Lecture attendees applauding Dr. Van Ells

By July of 1918, 10,000 U.S. soldiers were arriving in France every day. The U.S. troops, under the command of General John J. Pershing, commander of the U.S. Armed Forces, launched an offensive at St. Mihiel, which fortuitously coincided with a previous German decision to withdraw to stronger positions.  This was a prelude for the largest American offensive of the war - the Meuse-Argonne battle. This action contributed significantly to the German decision to end the War. In addition, U.S. troops, along with 110,000 French troops, all under the command of General Pershing, were part of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel fought from September 12 to 15, 1918. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

One hundred sixteen thousand U.S. soldiers died in the War - many from actual combat and many - from the influenza epidemic raging throughout Europe during this time.  The families of the deceased American servicemen were given the choice of having the remains of the deceased shipped back to the U.S. for burial or having them interred near where they fought and died. Thousands of families decided to leave the remains of their loved ones in France for burial and hence are interred in France. As a result of these overseas burials the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) was created after the War and it still controls and maintains these military cemeteries. It was noted that the ABMC is headquartered in Arlington. In his lecture, Professor Van Ells showed slides of some of these monuments created and designed in the Art Deco style by many well-known architects of the time. In addition, he showed slides of a number of monuments funded by the actual States from which many soldiers came.
Dr. Van Ells concluded his lecture noting that it is extremely moving to visit the region, which is very beautiful, and yet also very sad. He pointed out that in his travels to the region he was very impressed by the affection of the French in the region toward America for its crucial role played in both World Wars. His final note to the audience was to not forget the Great War.

The Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) is a nonprofit organization established in 1993. ASCA works to enhance and promote Arlington's international profile and foster productive exchanges in education, commerce, culture, and the arts.