Jeannette Rankin’s history-making moment in World War I
By NCC Staff
via the Constitution Daily (National Constitution Center) web site
It was on April 2, 1917 that Jeannette Rankin became the first woman in Congress. But within days, she became the target of national scorn for voting against America’s entry into World War I.
Four years before the 19th Amendment's ratification, which extended the right to vote to all American women, Rankin was elected as the first woman member of Congress. A Republican from Montana, Rankin ran on a platform promising a constitutional amendment for woman’s suffrage and reforms on other social welfare issues such as child labor. Despite the fact that she was elected in 1916, she wasn’t sworn in as a Representative until April 2, 1917, only after Congress had a month-long debate about whether a woman was fit to be a United States Representative.
Born in 1880, Rankin was a trailblazer and activist from a young age. After graduating Montana State University, she worked as a social worker in Washington before joining the woman suffrage movement in that state, which extended to women the right to vote in 1910. By 1914 she was experienced in navigating the suffrage battle and she was a lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, where she contributed to the woman suffrage campaign in Montana.
When she announced her candidacy for a House seat in Montana in 1916, some were understandably skeptical about her chances. While her election was a long shot, she benefitted from her political experience and reputation as an activist, and from support from her wealthy brother Wellington. During the campaign, she took a staunch pacifist position towards U.S. participation in World War I, and she pledged that she would not vote for any American involvement in the deadly European conflict. After her victory, she acknowledged the gravity of her achievement for women across the country and said that she was “deeply conscious of the responsibility resting upon” her.
On April 2, the same day that she officially became the first female member of Congress, President Wilson addressed Congress encouraging it to pass a declaration of war and authorize United States involvement in World War I.
As she voted no on the declaration of war three days later, she told her colleagues “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war”. The resolution ultimately passed 373 to 50, but Rankin established herself as both an active member of Congress and a staunch anti-war representative.
The Helena Independent called her “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl.” Others questioned if women were able to be congressional representatives. "Miss Rankin's vote is regarded, not as that of a pacifist, but rather as one dictated by the inherent abhorrence of women for war,” said the New York Times.
Later in 1917, Rankin led the fight in Congress to create the Committee on Woman Suffrage, and worked on the Committee to produce a constitutional amendment extending suffrage to women nationally. While the particular resolution the committee produced eventually failed to pass the Senate, she rallied support for it among her colleagues in the House by asking on the floor, “How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?”
Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
By Jeff Gottesfeld
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
The iconic psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, whose Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) is one of the most important books every written, loved the United States. But liberty, he warned, is not enough to sustain our nation. In a book mostly about his experiences in the Nazi camps and the importance of finding meaning even in the cruelest of settings, Frankl makes a bold proposal:
“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
Frankl’s call for responsibility may be one reason that for many years, I have visited national cemeteries on Memorial Day. I regret that I didn’t make this a habit until I was in my forties.
Five years ago, on Memorial Day, I traveled down the 405 Freeway with my de facto wife and step-daughter to the Los Angeles National Cemetery. It was impressively crowded, until we wandered away from the main ceremony, and into the vast fields of headstones.
As I walked among the rows, I noted one headstone that read, “UNKNOWN.” And then, another. I remembered a visit in my late teens to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and how I had marveled at this most significant of American shrines.
By the time we departed, I was mulling a children’s book about the Tomb, and the Tomb Guards who have kept watch there every minute of every day since July 2, 1937. I got the title quickly: Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The research for the book was both fascinating and upsetting. The fascinating part was building massive files. I have articles on unsung heroes buried at Arlington, like Don Holleder. Another about Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska member Marvin Franklin, a Tomb Guard KIA in Vietnam. There are endless stories from the websites of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; Arlington National Cemetery; and the United States World War I Centennial Commission. Patrick O’Donnell’s The Unknowns (2018) became a bible. So did the National Geographic Society’s Where Valor Rests (2009).
The upsetting part was coming to terms with how little I knew about the First World War. It was particularly painful because I had been an undergraduate American Studies major. Granted, college was a long time ago, but World War I was a seminal moment in our history. Arguably, it is when the United States became a world power. I am fond of saying that we cannot blame people for not knowing what they have not been taught, but I still blamed myself for this inexcusable gap. It was my own failing.
There was no way that I was going to fill the gap entirely. But after some fits and starts – mostly fits! – in finding my book’s point of view, I decided that the best way to make the past real to my young audience, their parents, and grandparents was to tell the story from the point of view of the first Unknown. I start like this:
'Hello Girls' Kept World War I Communications Humming
By Kelly Bell
via the Veterans of Foreign Wars web site
By the time the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, the Navy had already opened its doors to women, assigning them ground jobs that freed up men for sea service. The need ashore was even greater.
As the first American forces began arriving in France that summer, they found the communications network in disarray. In three years of combat, telephone lines were shot, shelled and bombed faster than they could be repaired.
Furthermore, the French women operating telephone exchanges spoke no English and in general were very casual toward their duties, frequently forsaking their switchboards in order to go to canteens, shopping and to meet with boyfriends. The very first U.S. phone operators were men who were poorly trained and tended to hang up when combat-stressed officers shouted at them over the lines.
Pershing Calls for ‘Hello Girls’
Army Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, found this situation intolerable. He had, however, noted the efficiency and competence of Britain’s Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps as they expertly kept England-based phone lines humming.
In November, he urgently advised his War Department of the need for French-speaking American women to take over the telephone system so that Allied military operations could be effectively coordinated.
Before Pershing had boarded the ship that bore him to Europe, he stuffed its hold with the latest in communications technology. The telephone was an American invention, and he was determined to exploit it to its fullest potential.
The War Department placed advertisements in newspapers across the country, and more than 7,000 patriotic women eagerly responded. The vast majority had to be rejected because they had no communications experience and spoke no French.
From this pool, the Army selected 150, mostly Louisiana Creoles and the daughters and granddaughters of French and French-Canadian immigrants. Following intensive training (in some cases re-training women who had been working as telegraph operators) by AT&T and basic instruction in military protocol, the Secret Service meticulously screened these volunteers to assure they were loyal to the Allied cause. Eventually, 223 women were cleared for duty and served in war-torn France.
How World War I Helped Women Ditch the Corset
By Jessica Pearce Rotondi
via the History.com web site
Massive cultural shifts during and after World War I helped free women from confining roles—and the confining corsets that bound them to the previous age. The evolution of the bra re-shaped the image of what a woman could be, whether she was serving in the war effort, fighting for the right to vote, or dancing in a flapper-style dress at war’s end.
History of the Bra
“No one person invented the corset or the bra,” says Valerie Steele, Director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “They were developed in different places and many people took out patents over the years improving or changing their design.” Some of the earliest bras date back to Ancient Rome: “Mosaics from the villa Romano del Casals in Sicily show the strophium, a simple cloth breast binding,” says Judith Dolan, distinguished professor and head of design at the University of California at San Diego.
By 1500, corsets—tight, structured undergarments extending from below the chest to the hips—became the undergarment of choice for women in the middle and upper classes in much of Europe. The constricting corset would reign supreme until the 20th century, when women began to breathe easier thanks to the bra.
While a 600-year-old prototype of a bra was recently found in a castle in Austria, credit for inventing the first “modern” bra goes to French designer Herminie Cadolle, who cut a corset into two in 1869 and called it the “corselet gorge.” Cadolle’s creation was seen as a bit scandalous at the time. It would take world events—and a patent—for the bra to really take off.
American socialite Mary “Polly” Phelps Jacob patented the “brassiere” on November 3, 1914, the year World War I broke out in Europe. Filing for the patent under the pseudonym “Caresse Crosby,” she’d come up with the concept while dressing for a ball, when her uncomfortable corset poked through her dress, prompting her and her maid to sew together two handkerchiefs to offer more flexible support.
Her business never quite took off (though she’d go on to shake up the publishing world in Paris, printing the work of authors like Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin, and James Joyce), and she sold her patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for a paltry $1,500. By the time the United States joined World War I in 1917, the influence of European fashions and the changing role of women helped open the floodgates for women to ditch their corsets and embrace the bra.
Hello Girls Are The Original Rodney Dangerfield
By Rob Watkins
via The Newport Plain Talk newspaper (VA) web site
Last week I told the story of a group of heroic women telephone operators and their actions during World War I. I also wrote that I would tell the rest of their story this week. Because of what happened to them when the war was over, they said the same thing as comedian Rodney Dangerfield,... “I get no respect”. Before I get to that I want to share the story of one of them who received one of America’s highest military honors.
Born in 1892, in Passaic, New Jersey Grace Banker was a woman who would become a hero during World War I. The education system in NJ was not established until the mid to late 1800s. The first high school opened in 1874 and size limited the number of students. So, when Grace was born education opportunities were still limited. This did not stop her, and not only did she complete her secondary education, she graduated with a double major in history and French from Barnard College, in New York.
After college she started to work as an operator for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), in New York. With her exceptional drive she quickly rose, in a male dominated field, to become an instructor.
In December of 1917 she saw one of the newspaper ads that General Pershing had requested for women operators to join the Army and go to France to run the switchboards. He wanted them to be able to speak French and she felt that description fit her, so she volunteered. In 2019 her granddaughter Carol Timbie said, “My grandmother and, I think, many women at that time wanted to do their part, be a part of the war. To help win.”
The women volunteers raised their hands, swore the Army’s Oath of Enlistment, were given dog tags, and uniforms and went through months of training. When they were finished with the training they left for France and into the war. Grace kept a diary, and it shares much of her thoughts. She wrote on March 7, 1918, “Sailed this morning in a dismal gray drizzle. Watched the Statue of Liberty fade from sight. For the first time, suddenly realized what a responsibility I have on my young shoulders.”
When she arrived in France she was assigned to General Pershing’s headquarters in Chaumont, France. There she supervised the operations and women assigned to handle all the communications between the headquarters and the front. Just six months later she and a group of five other women found themselves at the front.
That September found them within the range of German artillery at the battle for St. Mihiel. General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and over 100,000 French troops were set to take the region back from the Germans. Grace and her six operators worked twelve hour shifts and her diary shares, “Never spent more time at the office and never enjoyed anything more. My girls worked like beavers.”
They were so close to the front each had helmets and gas masks. Their “office” was a badly damaged building that had been bombed by the Germans. Each day they faced the return of those planes, and severe weather without heat. At one point their living quarters had been set on fire by a German prisoner, lucky none of them were injured.
When the AEF and French forces signed a cease fire on November 11, 1918 her team was reassigned to Paris where she worked at the residence set up for visiting President Woodrow Wilson. Since it was dull work, after her experiences on the front, she accepted a position at Army headquarters in Coblenz, Germany where she stayed until September 1919, when she and her team returned to the states. While there she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) presented for her “exceptionally meritorious service to the government in a duty of great responsibility”.
First Colors Ceremony Introduces America's New World War I Memorial
The United States World War I Centennial Commission in cooperation with the Doughboy Foundation, the National Park Service and the American Battle Monuments Commission is sponsoring a major event to celebrate the inaugural raising of the American flag over the nation's soon to open World War I Memorial in Washington, DC on Friday, April 16 at 10:00 a.m. EDT / 7:00 a.m. PDT.
The FIRST COLORS Ceremony will be an emotionally powerful, live-broadcast program that commemorates the generation of Americans who fought, with our allies, in the trenches and on the home front to bring an end to one of the most consequential wars in history.
Hosted by award-winning actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise, the 75-minute program will pay tribute to America's role in WWI and highlight our national unity with military fanfare, musical performances, and guest appearances by notable participants from across the country. Viewers will hear insights from high-profile elected officials, military leaders, and the dedicated team who has enriched the nation's understanding of World War I and created a lasting tribute in our nation's capital to engage Americans for generations to come.
"A century ago, 4.7 million Americans sent their sons and daughters off to fight a war that would change the world. They traveled to a country they had never visited, to fight in a war they didn't start, to achieve peace and liberty for a people they didn't know. FIRST COLORS takes a look at the how and why of the Memorial that honors their service," said Daniel Dayton, Executive Director, US World War I Centennial Commission.
The FIRST COLORS Ceremony is designed to "bring our history home." It marks the final leg of a journey that began with an American flag that first flew over our nation's capital on April 6, 2017, commemorating the Centennial Day that the United States went to war in 1917. This Commemorative Flag has since flown over American battlefield cemeteries in Europe, honoring the Doughboys who gave their all during the war. The colors will now return home to their final destination, forever flying above the new National World War I Memorial.
WWI 'Hello Girls' would be awarded Congressional Gold Medal under Senate bill
By Julia LeDoux
via the WWl radio (New Orleans, LA) web site
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has introduced legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the female military telephone operators who kept American and French GIs connected during World War I.
The Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act would award the medal to the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Also known as the Hello Girls, the bilingual female switchboard operators connected more than 150.000 calls per day during the war, doing so at a rate six times faster than their male counterparts.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced the legislation this week.
“The Hello Girls were faster and more accurate than any enlisted man at connecting men on the battlefield with military leaders, and blazed a new path for women on the front lines in France during WWI,” said Tester. “They took the Army oath, helped our allied forces win the war, but were still denied the veteran status and benefits they earned. This Congressional Gold Medal will honor their service and provide them with long-overdue recognition.”
Despite their service, the Hello Girls fought for 60 years to be recognized as being among the nation’s first women veterans.
Commemorative Bricks Support Local MD WWI Memorial Restoration
via the Patch.com College Park, MD web site
Riverdale, MD - A 40-foot-tall monument standing at the intersections of Bladensburg Road, Baltimore Avenue, and Annapolis Road in Bladensburg, Maryland, serves as a reminder of the 49 residents who died in World War I. This monument, commonly referred to as the Peace Cross, is owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation in Prince George's County which has embarked on a mission to restore it.
To support fundraising efforts for the Peace Cross' restoration, the department has developed a commemorative brick program. Through its webpage, www.pgparks.com/peacecross, the public can purchase a custom brick to be inscribed with the text of their choice. Many families use the brick in memorial of those who are no longer with us. Peace Cross Commemorative Bricks ensure that loved ones can be honored in an enduring way.
Maryland State Senator Malcolm Augustine stated, "As we honor our local heroes memorialized on the Bladensburg Peace Cross, we now have the opportunity to demonstrate our thanks by contributing to the restoration of the structure. I am pleased to purchase a brick that will be a permanent fixture of this historic memorial, in honor of the four African American soldiers listed on the Peace Cross."
The Peace Cross Memorial was constructed in 1919 in honor of World War I servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. On June 19, 2019, in a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 to allow a Veteran's memorial cross to continue to stand on public land in Maryland. Over the years, the monument has fallen into disrepair and is in need of maintenance. Help restore this historic landmark and give to a noble cause by purchasing a commemorative brick today. Every donation will go directly towards the memorial's restoration. To par
Kentucky WWI soldier's New Testament heading to museum
By Nathan Havenner
via the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer newspaper (KY) web site
Nearly 100 years have passed since a New Testament carried by Arthur J. Douthitt into battle during World War I made its way back to his widow in Kentucky from France. Now, it will be donated to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.
Nicole Morton Goeser said she wants to share the story of her great uncle, a native of Stanley, with his own community.
While Douthitt was killed in action, reportedly by an enemy sniper while serving with the U.S. Army in France, his New Testament, kept safe in a red Velvet tobacco tin, was recovered from the battlefield. In February 1923, his widow Lillian Douthitt received an unexpected letter from a Mr. Fred Robak of Birmingham, England.
“In going through my brother-in-law’s effects a few days ago, I found amongst them a testament and inside the cover is a note asking in case of accident for someone to return it to you,” the letter read.
On the inside cover of the New Testament given to him by his mother in 1904, Douthitt had written, “In case of accident, will someone please send this little testament to my dear wife, Mrs. Arthur J. Douthitt, Stanley, KY, USA.”
Considering that five years had passed since the close of WWI in 1918, Robak wanted to make sure he had the proper address before sending the tin and New Testament back to Kentucky.
“I just know that letter was sent to Great Aunt Lillian first because the gentlemen had her husband’s testament and he wanted to make sure that he had the correct address first,” Goeser said.
After the death of Lillian Douthitt in 1966 and her daughter, Hazel, in 1978, a daughter her father was never able to meet, the tin and New Testament passed to Goeser’s mother, Elizabeth, before being given to her.
It has been a treasured family keepsake, one that has helped keep the memory of Douthitt alive and well through the decades.
Grand Haven, MI man killed in WWI honored with Purple Heart
By WOODTV.com staff
via the WOOD TV television station (MI) web site
GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — A soldier from Grand Haven who died in World War I finally received his Purple Heart Friday.
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, presented the Purple Heart posthumously to Charles Conklin, praising the courage and resilience of those who fought in World War I.
“We are just honored here today, aren’t we all, as we think about Charles and the sacrifices of those generations,” Huizenga said.
Conklin’s name is on American Legion Post 28 in Grand Haven. He was the first Grand Haven resident killed in the war on May 7, 1918.
The Purple Heart will be on display at the American Legion Post.
How World War I's Legacy Eclipsed the 1918 Pandemic
By Elizabeth Yuko
via the History.com web site
World War I came to an end on November 11, 1918—nine months after the first cases of what was referred to as the “Spanish Flu” were reported in the United States. Against the backdrop of the war, the 1918 influenza pandemic surged at a time when people were already experiencing scarcity in everyday supplies, coping with having loved ones serving overseas, and living in a wartime economy.
A second global crisis had started before the first one ended.
World War I was devastating, leading to around 20 million deaths worldwide. Deaths from the 1918 pandemic were even more staggering: At least 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans, died from the disease. But the legacy of World War I overshadowed the pandemic, making the unprecedented loss of life from the flu almost an afterthought.
“When the flu impact resolved, people engaged in a kind of collective amnesia,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD, a medical anthropologist specializing in public health emergency preparedness at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. “At the same time though, there still was the collective trauma of the war. And so you had processes of post-war rituals and remembrances and monuments.”
Investment in World War I Memorials
For an event to become entrenched in the collective memory, it requires the public to be actively engaged in remembering it, according to Maria Luisa Lima and José Manuel Sobral in Societies Under Threat: A Pluri-Disciplinary Approach. This happens through referencing the event among family members and in everyday conversations, as well as commemorating it in monuments, rituals, archives and narratives.
“The contrast between the investment in memorialization of the war and what happened with the Spanish flu is huge,” say Lima and Sobral. They point out that, unlike wars, pandemics don’t offer the same “monumental benchmarks” that lend themselves to a monument or public commemoration, like a particular battle or the signing of a treaty.
Commemorations to mark World War I emerged quickly in the wake of the war—and in a variety of forms. School textbook narratives were updated, Veterans Day was established, and monuments and memorials were placed at sites across the country.
The Jihad Legacy of World War I
By Wolfgang G. Schwanitz
via the the Foreign Policy Research Institute web site
Known as a pious Muslim, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said in 2015 that it is most difficult to change religious rhetoric and how people use their faith. The outcomes will take many years: “Radical misconceptions [of Islam] were instilled 100 years ago. Now we can see the results.” He may been referring to the German-Ottoman jihadization of Islamism in the early 20th century. So, what happened in World War I?
Historians deal often with European powers—particularly, the Triple Entente or Allies and their empires—but not many focus on the Central Powers and their actions in the Middle East. This essay discusses the background of the German-Ottoman axis, the change of the jihad doctrine, and the call for a “partial jihad” to ignite “war by revolts” in the Allies’ Muslim-majority colonies.
From Berlin to Istanbul
As the German Reich emerged in 1871, its British, French, and Russian neighbors were growing their colonies into empires. Rivalry between the empires intensified, and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck led his primary policy toward building the German empire. To maintain the status quo in the Middle East, he followed a secondary policy without seeking colonies. The “German Mideast founding years” began in 1884: three decades of commercial, cultural, and peaceful expansion. But von Bismarck kept the question of which powers would get parts of the fading Ottoman Empire open in order to avoid hostile pacts forming by neighbors in Central Europe.
In 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II retired the Chancellor. The monarch feared that Germany’s neighbors would import soldiers from abroad and use them in Europe against Germany. The Kaiser developed a new policy: align with the Ottomans, and, in case of an all-out war in Europe, turn Muslims against their colonial masters. In 1896, Max von Oppenheim, his diplomat in Cairo “to watch Islam,” pointed him to the prophet Sayyid al-Kailani of Baghdad’s al-Qadiriyya Brotherhood. He allegedly had “a huge sway in India” and could ignite an Islamist revolt. The Kaiser need only to give the signal: If London loses India, then its global might will end.
Before the Kaiser visited Istanbul’s Sultan-Caliph Abdul Hamid II in 1898, von Oppenheim’s Report #48 (of 467 until 1909) told him about a pan-Islamic Afro-Asian movement with anti-Christian brotherhoods against colonialists. Should the Sultan turn defensive jihad to an offensive one, empires could crumble as the al-Mahdiyya Brotherhood had demonstrated in Sudan. Pan-Islamists wanted to end any Christian’s rule, so the Sultan was a worthy ally for Germany. As a result of von Oppenheim’s advice, the Kaiser vowed to be the “protector of the 300 million Muslims” in Damascus.
In 1900, a pan-Islamist movement was not only a matter for Germany with its 57 Orientalist lecturers at 21 universities. The Italian Iranist Italo Pizzi wrote on Islamism and jihad L’islamismo e la guerra santa and Islamismo. At Cambridge, scholars debated the Sultan’s role. George P. Gooch argued since he did not descend from the prophet, he was no true caliph. Nevertheless, Muslims accepted his power to proclaim jihad against “infidels.” His army had 750,000 men and “gained power by telegraph.” In the 1890s, his men killed Armenians. Jews lived there, too. Edward G. Browne defined pan-Islamism as a union for a theocracy. He stressed Berlin’s “intrusion” with the reform of the Ottoman military, railway building, and sympathetically leaning to Islamists.
NY National Guardsman Led Fight for Tomb of the Unknown
By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National Guard
via the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service
LATHAM, N.Y. – The United States has a Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers today because a New York National Guard Major and freshman Congressman thought it was necessary 100 years ago.
Hamilton Fish III was a 32-year old lawyer with a Harvard degree who could trace his roots back to the last Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, the original settlers of Connecticut, and the first Adjutant General of New York when he ran for Congress in 1920.
He was a progressive Republican member of the New York State Assembly before World War I and signed on to serve as a company commander in the 15th New York Infantry (Colored) of the New York National Guard.
When war came, he led Company K of what became known as the 369th Infantry Regiment, which went down in history as the Harlem Hellfighters.
He earned a Silver Star, and the French War Cross. He took the medals and his famous name and ran for Congress from the Hudson Valley.
The British and French had interred unknown Soldiers with great ceremony on November 11, 1920 to commemorate the 908,000 deaths sustained by the British Empire and the 1.3 million French dead.
Fish thought that the United States, which had suffered 116,516 deaths – 53,402 in combat and 63,114 to disease-- between April 1917 and November 1918, should do the same. He became the lead advocate for a memorial to an American Unknown Soldier.
The purpose, according to Fish, was “to bring home the body of an unknown American warrior who in himself represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and who typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead.”
“There should be no distinction whatever either in the matter of rank, color or wealth,” Fish said. “This man is the unknown American Soldier killed on the battlefields of France.”
Fish introduced Public Resolution 67 of the 66th Congress on December 21, 1920 to do just that.
The resolution called for the return to the United States of the remains of an unknown American Soldier killed in France during World War I. Those remains were to be interred at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery.
America’s war dead had been buried in France near where they fell in combat. At the close of the war families were given the option of having the remains returned or interred in American cemeteries being built in France.
There was a precedent for these Soldier cemeteries in the 108 national cemeteries built to inter the remains of Civil War Soldiers and veterans since 1862. There was no precedent to honor a single Soldier.