Experience the Great War Above the Trenches at the National Air and Space Museum

The list of ‘Must Sees” for most Washington, DC visitors includes the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It is one of the city’s most visited attractions, welcoming over 6 million people each year. It is easy to understand why. It is near the Mall, admission is free and the extensive collection of all things that fly attracts people of all ages. There are literally thousands of items on display, as well as a planetarium, an IMAX movie theater and flight simulators.

Some of the best military-themed exhibits within easy walking distance of the Mall can be found at NASM. In 1991, NASM opened Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air examining the budding role of aviation during the First World War. The exhibit contrasts the romanticized view of the experiences of World War I pilots with the starker reality of combat aviation. The exhibit entices you to enter with a bright red movie theater façade, complete with flashing marquee and similarly colored Pfalz D.XII fighter aircraft suspended overhead.

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This Pfalz D.XIII Fighter is painted bright red for its Hollywood movie role.

Inside the theater, a short, looped film explains how Hollywood adapted stories of World War I pilots for American audiences. Nearby a child’s bedroom exhibit features books, games and toys from the post-war period celebrating the glory, bravery and derring-do of World War I flying aces.

Turn the corner and a somber reality sets in.

The lighting fades and the sounds of combat emerge. Ground combat and life in the trenches are portrayed. The focus shifts to a more detailed examination of the roles pilots and aircraft would play during the war as observers, fighters, bombers, and conducting photo reconnaissance missions. Three early battles in the war, Tannenburg, the Marne and the Somme are briefly examined where the warring parties learned both the great potential and many pitfalls of deploying aircraft into combat.

During the Battle of Tannenburg and the Battle of the Marne, respective German and French commanders successfully countered enemy troop movements detected by aerial observation. During the Somme however, the British learned the limits of using aerial observation. While pilots could detect troop movements, they would not assess the morale, or the level of training of the enemy units detected below. British commanders also experienced the difficulties of coordinating simultaneous air and ground operations.

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Albatross D.Va Fighter – The German military built over 4,800 Albatross fighters of all types during World War I. Only two are known to exist today. This Albatross D.Va fighter on display and one other at the Australian War Museum in Canberra.

For the aviation enthusiast, the highlights of the exhibit are likely the Smithsonian’s restored vintage WWI aircraft. In addition to the Pfalz D.XII fighter, other German aircraft include an Albatross D.Va, and Fokker D.VII fighters. There is a Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe fighter from the United Kingdom and a French Voisin Type 8 bomber.

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Fokker D.VII fighter – Two mannequins representing a pilot and ground crewman inspect the Fokker D.VII fighter. Developed to counter more advanced Allied fighter aircraft, the Fokker D.VII fighter was introduced to front line squadrons in April 1918. Some historians and aviation experts considered the Fokker D.VII to be one of the best fighter aircraft of World War I. The plane was so highly regarded the final Armistice required the Germans to surrender all Fokker D.VII fighters.

There is also a SPAD XIII fighter. This French made aircraft was known for its sturdiness and ability to perform during dog fights. Multiple air services flew the SPAD XIII’s because of its excellent reputation and performance. In addition to the French, it was flown by the British, Italians, Belgians and Russians.

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The SAPD XIII Fighter. The number “20” on the side is the aircraft’s identification number, assigned by the aero squadron.

As the U.S. entered World War I with no combat ready aircraft, the SPAD XIII was also used by U.S. fighter squadrons of the American Expeditionary Force. The SPAD XIII on display was assigned to the 22nd Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service.

It was piloted by Lieutenant A. Raymond Brooks who named the aircraft “Smith IV” after his sweetheart’s alma mater. Lt. Brooks won one of his six aerial victories in Smith IV; other squadron pilots achieved additional victories. After being sent to the United States for a Liberty Bond tour in 1918, Smith IV was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1919.

There are no American made aircraft in the World War I exhibit, but a de Havilland DH-4, manufactured by the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company can be found in the “Looking at Earth” exhibit, downstairs in Gallery 107.

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De Havilland DH-4. This U.S. made bomber and observation aircraft would continue to serve the U.S. Government many years after the war.

As the U.S. was preparing to enter the war, the military began looking at various Allied aircraft designs that might be adapted and built in the U.S. The DH-4 was modeled after the British de Havilland bomber and the DH-4 would serve the U.S. Army Air Service in the same capacity. The first models began conducting combat missions in August of 1918.

The DH-4 on display was a prototype, flying many flights and experiments to test the aircraft’s design. Although it never saw combat, this DH-4 is fitted with the standard military compliment of combat equipment: six 25 lb Mark II bombs, two DeRam DR-4 cameras, two fixed, forward-firing .30-caliber Marlin machine guns, and the observer’s position is armed with two flexible .30-caliber Lewis machine guns.

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SMILE! A mannequin demonstrates one role of the de Havilland DH-4, as a photo reconnaissance aircraft.

Because the NASM is such a popular destination, it can become very crowded in the spring and summer. Planning ahead can save you some valuable time. Use the “Visit” section of the NASM website to see what is currently on display, learn about the day’s special programs, get helpful tips, and buy tickets in advance for any of the IMAX movies or the planetarium. It is important to remember visitors must pass through metal detectors to enter the NASM and certain items are prohibited.

If the NASM Mall location leaves you wanting to see more about aircraft and space exploration, the NASM has a second complex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located about 28 miles from downtown Washington near Dulles International Airport. Several Smithsonian Institution museums, including NASM, offer extended hours during the spring and summer. You can find more information at: http://www.si.edu/visit/hours#ExtendedHours

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ROUTE RECON

The NASM is located at the intersection of Independence Avenue and 6th Street, Southwest. There is no onsite parking, but there are several commercial lots nearby. The nearest Washington Metro stations are the L’Enfant Plaza Station on the Yellow and Green Lines and the Smithsonian Station on the Blue and Orange lines. Both stations are about a two block walk to the NASM.

MESS CALL

The Wright Place Food Court offers a variety of fast food meal options from Boston Market, Donatos Pizza and McDonald’s.

75 Years After Pearl Harbor, the Taney Still Serves

What better way to observe the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor than to visit the last U.S. ship afloat which saw action on that fateful December morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney is moored about 40 miles north of Washington, D.C. The Taney is part of the Historic Ships in Baltimore, a floating museum of notable ships from our nation’s naval and maritime heritage.

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U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney (WHEC-37)

The Taney (pronounced TAW-ney) was one of seven Coast Guard vessels in the Treasury class of High Endurance Cutters. The Treasury Class would be known for their ability to perform many different types of missions and their many years of service to the Coast Guard. The Taney was built in Philadelphia and launched in 1936. She was assigned to Honolulu from 1936 through 1941 where she undertook missions familiar to today’s Coast Guard: law enforcement, maritime patrols, and search and rescue, among others.

pearl-harbor-poster_travel-objective-dcOn the morning of December 7, 1941, the Taney was moored in Honolulu Harbor, about eight miles away from Pearl Harbor. While not directly attacked that day, she did engage Japanese aircraft in her vicinity.

In the war’s early years, the Taney stayed in the Pacific, conducting maritime patrols, pilot rescues, and counter-submarine operations.

From 1943-1944, the Taney served in the Atlantic theater, performing convoy escort duty between the U.S. and Europe, and engaging German planes in the Mediterranean. In late 1944 the Taney was converted to an Amphibious Command Ship and returned to the Pacific. She was Rear Admiral Calvin Cobb’s flagship at the battle of Okinawa where her crew served with great distinction defending her from more than 250 attacks by Japanese aircraft.

After the war, the Taney returned to peacetime missions: reporting weather conditions, conducting search and rescue missions, and supporting law enforcement operations. From 1946-1972, the Taney was based at Alameda, California.

img_5794The Taney also participated in the Viet Nam War. From 1969-1970, she patrolled the waters off Viet Nam, supporting naval bombardments, preventing enemy resupply operations and providing medical assistance to South Vietnamese nationals.

In 1972, she was transferred to the east coast, continuing her peacetime missions, as well as serving as a training ship for Coast Guard cadets and officer candidates.

The Taney was decommissioned in 1986 and transferred to the City of Baltimore as a museum ship.

After 50 years of service to the Coast Guard, the Taney certainly lived up to her designation as a “High Endurance” cutter.

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Today the Taney is found on Pier 5 of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Climb aboard, walk the decks, explore the berths and you get a sense of the rhythm of mid-20th century “Coastie” life.

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A blue line with arrows painted on the deck guides you through the living quarters, dining areas and work spaces. Placards and actual shipboard notices to the crew, dating from the 1980’s, explain how crewmembers spent their days moving between duty, meals, hygiene and sleep with long hours of routine punctuated by brief periods of white knuckle danger, recreational diversions or just a few peaceful moments to observe a Pacific sunset.

Available space is tight on the 327-foot-long cutter, so privacy was clearly a luxury reserved for the Taney’s senior officers, especially when the size of the crew doubled to over 250 personnel during World War II. There are also special exhibits devoted to the attack at Pearl Harbor and the Taney’s service in Viet Nam.

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img_5785Younger visitors can learn about the Taney’s Mascot “Soogie”, a dog who sailed on board from 1937 until 1948.

Paw prints on the floor direct kids to information kiosks with details about this Coastie canine and his life at sea.

In recognition of her service at Pearl Harbor, each year on December 7 at 12:00 noon, the Historic Ships in Baltimore hosts a memorial ceremony on board the Taney. The event is free and open to the public.

But any season is a good time of year to visit the Taney and learn her stories. A few hours on board and you can’t help but develop a healthy respect for the ship and the crew members who sailed her through a half century of service to the United States.

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White House Vicinity: The First Division Monument, the Second Division Memorial and Pershing Park

The First Division Monument

Along 17th Street near the White House are monuments to two American Expeditionary Force units: the First and Second Divisions. The First Division Monument is located at the corner of 17th Street and State Place, just west of the White House and South from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The Second Division Memorial is adjacent to the corner of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, near the Ellipse.

The First Division Monument has a bronze winged victory statue atop a granite column. The names of 5,516 First Division Soldiers who died in World War I are inscribed on it. The First Division, now known as the First Infantry Division (or by its nickname “the Big Red One”) was the first division to land in France in 1917 and the last division to leave Europe in 1919.

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The First Division Monument (Note the flowers planted in the shape of a “Big Red One”)

Planning for the monument began in 1919 while the division was still on occupation duty in Germany. While initially opposed by the U.S. Fine Arts Commission, it was later envisioned as a new type of military monument, very different in design and purpose from the equestrian statues of individual Civil War generals that are still prevalent around the city.

Through the years additional names have been added commemorating the sacrifices of the First Infantry Division in World War II, Korea, Viet Nam and Operation Desert Storm. The First Infantry Division Association is now raising money to add additional names from its campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The monument is now located within the restricted area maintained by the Secret Service around the White House. It is not possible to visit the monument up close, but it can be viewed from the sidewalk along 17th Street. The First Infantry Division Association will hold a Memorial Service on Veterans Day starting at 11:00 am. Because of Secret Service restrictions, the service will be held on the north side of the Ellipse, within sight of the monument.

The Second Division Memorial

The Second Division Memorial portrays a blazing gilded sword before an open archway in a stone edifice, representing the Second Division’s defense of Paris in 1918. On either side of the opening are panels listing the World War I battles and campaigns of the Second Division. The division’s emblem, an Indian head inside a five pointed star, is incorporated on the base of the sword.

The memorial was originally dedicated in 1936 by Franklin Roosevelt. Two wings were added in 1962 to recognize the division’s service in World War II and Korea. The Second Infantry Division Association is proposing adding three granite benches to the front of the memorial to commemorate the 2nd Division soldiers who died while serving on the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The Second Division Memorial

ROUTE RECON

The Memorials are easily reached from the Farragut West Station on Metro’s Blue, Orange and Silver Lines and walking south along 17th Street.

Pershing Park

U.S. military personnel deployed to Europe to fight in World War I were organized in a single unit, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), commanded by General of the Armies John Pershing. A park named in his honor lies at the intersection of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, about a block from the White House.

gen-pershing-statue_travel-objective-dcThe park opened in 1981 and features a bronze statue of “Black Jack” Pershing looking west over the park. An adjoining wall describes the role he and the AEF played on the European Western Front and in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

Originally designed to be an expanse of green space in the middle of the city, the park has unfortunately not been well maintained over the past few years. The World War I Centennial Commission has selected Pershing Park though as the sight of a National World War I Memorial. A ground breaking for the new memorial is scheduled for next year with a targeted completion date of November 2018.

ROUTE RECON

Pershing Park is just south east of the White House across 15th Street along Pennsylvania Avenue. It can be reached from either the Metro Center Station on Metro’s Red Line or Federal Triangle on Metro’s Blue, Orange or Silver Lines.

 

 

National Mall: District of Columbia War Memorial

District of Columbia War Memorial

The District of Columbia War Memorial recognizes the World War I service of citizens from the District of Columbia. It is located just north of Independence Avenue, roughly opposite of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

In the cornerstone of the Memorial is a list of all 26,000 District veterans who served in World War I. On the base of the memorial are the names the 499 city residents who died during the war. Dedicated in 1931, it is an example of a “living memorial”, a structure which combines symbolic commemoration with a practical purpose. The DC War Memorial was constructed as a bandstand and carefully designed to accommodate the entire U.S. Marine Corps Band. (The Marine Band did play weekly summer concerts at the memorial until World War II).

This is the only memorial on the Mall dedicated exclusively to the District of Columbia and the first memorial to list the names of women and African Americans along with white men.

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The District of Columbia War Memorial

ROUTE RECON

The District of Columbia War Memorial is located on the National Mall between the Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial. It is a 15-20 minute Walk west from the Smithsonian Station on Metro’s Blue Line, Orange and Silver Lines.

Arlington National Cemetery: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Argonne Cross

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The best known memorial of World War I in the Washington area is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Following World War I, many countries adopted the practice of burying the unidentified remains of one solider in a place of high honor. Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier in 1921 in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

On Memorial Day of that year, four caskets containing remains of unidentified soldiers were exhumed from American cemeteries in France and brought to the City Hall in Chalons-en-Champagne in northeast France. There, on October 21, Army Sergeant Edward Younger, a highly decorated combat veteran, selected the casket that would come to rest in Arlington.

The casket was transported back to the United States, and after lying in state at the Capitol, the unknown soldier was buried on November 11, 1921. Five years later, Congress authorized the marble structure we see today at the Tomb, which was ultimately completed in 1931. Since July 2, 1937, the Tomb has been under 24 hour guard by U.S. Army soldiers. Today, a special platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guards the Tomb.

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Sections 18, 19, 34 and the Argonne Cross

Because of the large number of American deaths overseas in World War I (approximately 116,000), the U.S. Government was faced with a critical decision in the immediate aftermath of the war: What would be done with the remains of America’s fallen soldiers? Would they be permanently interred in Europe or would the remains be brought back to the United States for burial?

Some believed it was best for the soldiers to be buried in Europe–among the comrades they fought with and in the countries they died defending. But ultimately, public sentiment favored giving the soldiers’ families the option of returning the remains to the United States.

Eventually, 46,000 remains were repatriated. Over 5,000 would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, many in Sections 18 and 19. Also found in Section 18 is the Argonne Cross which commemorates the principal American offensive of World War I, the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.

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This was the largest offensive in U.S. military history, involving 1.2 million troops. It lasted 47 days beginning on September 26, 1918 and ending with the armistice on November 11.  The battle cost 26,277 American lives. The cross was erected in 1923 after many of the burials of World War I soldiers at Arlington.

gen-pershing-headstone_travel-objective-dcThe commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General of the Armies* John J. Pershing is also buried in Arlington, in adjoining Section 34 on a hill overlooking the men he commanded. A simple, government issued headstone marks his grave, alongside a spruce tree, placed in 1989 by the No Greater Love organization in memory of all Americans who died in World War I.

* Through much of its history, the highest rank in the U.S. Army, outside of the time of major wars, has been a two star major general. During World War I, Congress authorized the appointment of three star lieutenant generals and four star generals to be granted temporarily. John J. Pershing was promoted to general in October 1917. In 1919, by Congressional directive, the rank of General of the Armies was formally established and General Pershing became the first person to hold the rank.

 

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ROUTE RECON

Arlington National Cemetery is located in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The cemetery is at the end of Memorial Avenue, which extends west from the Lincoln Memorial, across the Memorial Bridge. Memorial Avenue intersects with the George Washington Memorial Parkway, just west of the Memorial Bridge. Arlington Cemetery is accessible from the major highways in the area such as Interstate 95, Interstate 395, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (I-295). There is paid parking on site.

METRO: There is also a stop for Arlington National Cemetery along the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) Blue Line.

A Century Later, We Can Still Remember

Every year since 1918, the United States has observed the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in a special way. As many high school history students can tell you, this was the effective time and day of the armistice which ended World War I.

As significant as it was, World War I does not resonate in the American psyche as does World War II or the Civil War. But it is hard to overstate its impact. World War I ushered in a completely new type of war, marked by huge armies, massive causality rates, multiple theaters of operation, the mobilization of national economies and the application of modern, industrial technologies to warfare.

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A soldier from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The first widespread and tactically significant use of aircraft, submarines, tanks, machine guns and chemical weapons occurred in World War I. Though fought a century ago, the impact of World War I remains with us today. Balkan civil wars, the status of Northern Ireland and much of the ethnic conflict in the Middle East can all be traced directly to World War I and its settlement.

April 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. The war greatly changed America. The United States greatly expanded its armed forces to fight the conflict. By the war’s end, there were over 4 million troops under arms.

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Statue of General John Pershing

America emerged from World War I as an economic,political and military power. Washington, DC grew quickly and many temporary buildings were erected for government workers busy building up the armed services and managing aspects of the economy.

Few traces of those changes can be seen today but there are important memorials to the soldiers who fought in the war. The centennial of America’s entry into the “Great War” provides a suitable occasion to visit these landmarks and honor those who served.

This month Travel Objective: DC highlights a few World War I landmarks that are accessible from downtown Washington and easily added to most visitors’ itineraries. We organized the landmarks by geography for convenient trip planning. Please click on the links below for more information, including a Route Recon for how to get there.

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

  • Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
  • Sections 18, 19, 34 and the Argonne Cross

NATIONAL MALL

  • District of Columbia War Memorial

WHITE HOUSE VICINITY

  • First Division Monument
  • Second Division Memorial
  • Pershing Park

If you are interested in learning more about the U. S. experience in the “the Great War,” visit the website of the United States World War I Centennial Commission. The commission was founded by Congress in 2013 to educate Americans about the war and to organize and promote various commemorative activities. You can learn more about the proposed National World War I memorial, review historical information and even sign up to volunteer in your community. It would be a fitting tribute to all those men and women, soldiers and civilians, who answered the country’s call a century ago.