Just days before the 100th anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war, Arlington National Cemetery celebrated the opening of a World War I exhibit Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“For the past 24 months, Arlington National Cemetery and the American Battle Monuments Commission have teamed together to create an exhibit remembering the First World War,” said Chris Warren, Arlington National Cemetery historian, adding that the collaborative expertise and resources of both organizations created the exhibit “to honor the service and legacy of all those who served during the Great War.”
The exhibit covers everything from the arrival of the U.S. forces on the battlefield to the advances in military technology used in the war. Placed throughout the roughly 500-square-foot exhibit, which is located in the lobby of the cemetery’s Welcome Center, are 15 displays with thematic panels that play video and display photographs and artifacts from the war.
One display covers the role of African-Americans and women during the war. Another features the repatriation of fallen service members back to the U.S and their burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Yet another shares historical milestones in the creation of American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries abroad.
“This is the first time Arlington National Cemetery has created a large-scale thematic exhibit in the Welcome Center,” Warren said. “This exhibit educates our visitors not only on the history of [Arlington National Cemetery] but also on how a specific conflict changed the very nature of commemoration in the United States. Visitors will learn how the First World War affected the American public and how the aftermath of the Great War still influences us today.”
More than 30,000 U.S. casualties of World War W I are buried in American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries overseas, he said. Nearly 5,000 American casualties are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I feel that the transformed Welcome Center will serve as a reminder to veterans and their loved ones that their efforts are forever honored and will impress upon visitors the greatness of the sacrifice American service people endure for this country’s freedoms,” said Grace Lane, American Battle Monuments Commission contractor and project coordinator. “The new exhibit … instilled within me a deeper sense of gratitude toward American heroes.”
Participating in the ribbon-cutting were Roderick Gainer, Arlington National Cemetery curator; Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director, Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery; Robert Dalessandro, acting secretary, American Battle Monuments Commission and Alec Bennet, American Battle Monuments Commission historian.
The Arlington National Cemetery averages approximately 3 to 4 million visitors a year, according to Warren. So he predicts the exhibit will become one of the most visited World War I displays in the U.S.
A group of 55 students from South Creek Middle School in Shawnee, Okla., were among the first visitors to arrive to view the new exhibit Friday. The exhibit will run through November 2018.