World War I Memorial
District of Columbia
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A Soldier's Journey

Memorial architect Joe Weishaar calls Sabin Howard's A Soldier's Journey sculpture "The Everyman." Thirty-eight separate figures, spread over approximately 58 feet of wall towards the western end of the Memorial Core, portray the experience of one American soldier. Starting from the left, the soldier takes leave from his wife and daughter, charges into combat, sees men around him killed, wounded, and gassed, and recovers from the shock to come home to his family. The figures are mounted on the wall.

In the departure, the soldier's daughter hand him his helmet, while his wife touches him with a restraining arm, as if to hold him back as he answers the call to battle—representing the debate over American involvement in the war. In the initiation, the soler joins the parade to war, as the United States joins the epic battle in Europe.

The parade, and the work as a whole, includes African Americans and other ethnic groups who answered their country's call.

In the middle scene, the ordeal, the parade devolves into the tension before the charge and then the tumult of desperate and violent combat. At the center our hero calls his comrades into battle, illustrating the famous American battle cry from Belleau Wood: "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"

The aftermath depicts the physical and mental wounds of the fighters. Here are represented American women who served at home and on the fighting front. And here the turbulent, left-to-right narrative pauses, as the hero stops and looks directly at the viewer. The soldier's look of shock and loss — the thousand-year stare — along with the empty helmets piled at his feet, invite the viewer to stop and contemplate with him the costs of war.

In the return, the soldier rejoins the homecoming parade. One figure look back with pride, while a flag bearer leads the country forward into "the American century." Our soldier returns home and hands his helmet back to his daughter. She looks into the helmet and sees World War II, the war that will bring America back to Europe little more than 20 years later.

Due to the size and complexity of the casting process, the sculpture will not be installed before 2024. Until then, artwork showing what the final product will look like will be in its place. The wall is surrounded by water and is viewed from a platform several feet in front of it.

The Belvedere

A belvedere is an architectural feature providing a particularly scenic view. At the World War I Memorial, the Belvedere is the conceptual center of the memorial, as it provides a commanding view of the elements and features of the memorial — the American Expeditionary Forces memorial and General John J. Pershing statue is located to the viewer's left, the "A Soldier's Journey" sculpture is to the front, and flagstaff are and quotes from President Woodrow Wilson and others are to the right.

At the center of the Belvedere is a large rendering of the front of the World War I Victory Medal centered upon the memorial floor. The medal depicts a winged Victory holding a shield and sword on the front, heralding the dawn of a new era of peace.

Exhibit panels along the Belvedere wall describe the American accomplishments of the war, roles played by Americans of all forces and the legacy of the war.

Encircling the exterior of the Belvedere are listed the names of the campaigns in which U.S. forces participated during the war:

Cambrai • Somme Defensive • Lys • Aisne • Montdidier-Noyon • Champagne-Marne • Aisne-Marne • Somme Offensive • Oise-Aisne • Ypres-Lys • Saint Mihiel • Meuse-Argonne • Vittorio Veneto • North Russia • Siberia • Atlantic Convoys • Western Atlantic • North Sea • Mediterranean

Memorial Inscriptions

The following quotations are engraved on the World War I Memorial:

The Great Man

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.

—John J. Pershing

Published in Pershing's memoir, My Experiences in the World War (1931).

This quote is located on the east side of the memorial, on the wall behind the statue of General Pershing.

The Toll of War

They were mortal, but they were unconquerable.

—Willa Cather

From One of Ours (1922), written by Willa Cather in response to the death of her cousin, G. P. Cather, killed in the battle of Cantigny in May 1918. Cather received the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for the work.

This quote is engraved on a planter on the northeast side of the lower plaza.

Diversity in the American War Effort

If this world must become embroiled in a tremendous "war to end wars,"I am glad that I, too, may play a part in it.

—Alta May Andrews

From a letter written on December 1, 1917, from Andrews, an army nurse, to her mother. Andrews served two years in Europe, first as an American Red Cross nurse then in the Army Nurse Corps.

This quotation is inscribed on a planter on the northwest side of the lower plaza.

The Every Man

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.

—President Woodrow Wilson

Excerpted from a Memorial Day speech delivered to a group of Americans by Wilson at the Suresnes Cemetery near Paris on May 30, 1919.

It is inscribed on a retaining wall below the flagpole near the northwest corner of the memorial.

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Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope
Or for nothing, we cannot say, it is you who must say this
They say we leave you our deaths, give them their meaning
We were young, they say, we have died, remember us.

—Archibald MacLeish

Excerpted from "The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak" (1940). MacLeish served in World War I as an ambulance driver and artillery officer and wrote this poem while Librarian of Congress for a memorial service honoring all the Library of Congress staff members who had died in the war.

Located on the west side of the memorial, behind the "A Soldier's Journey" sculpture.

The Pershing Memorial

The effort to erect a memorial to General John J. Pershing in Washington, D.C. emerged shortly after the general's 1948 death. Presidents Harry S Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, both military service veterans of World War I, supported the memorial campaign. First authorized by Congress in 1956, the project languished, however, for 25 years before eventually coming to fruition.

The American Battle Monuments Commission was given responsibility for planning and construction of the memorial. The ABMC had been established in 1923 to honor members of the U.S. military at home and in the locations where they served, and Pershing led the organization as its first chairman from 1923 until his death in 1948. In 1966, Congress authorized the construction of the memorial to Pershing along Pennsylvania Avenue (Reservation 617) and stipulated that it would also honor the American Expeditionary Forces troops he commanded. The memorial was dedicated on May 14, 1981; the statue of Pershing would be added in October 1983.

The American Expeditionary Forces Memorial was designed by architect Wallace Harrison, whose other designs of note include the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, the United Nations complex and LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports. Set amongst trees, a statue of Pershing is bordered by two ten-foot high Dakota mahogany granite walls. On the south wall are maps of the American sectors of the Western Front and text describing the vital contributions of American forces toward winning and ending the Great War, not only on the Western Front but throughout other sectors as well.

The bronze statue of General Pershing was completed by sculptor Robert White (grandson of American architect Stanford White). Dedicated in October 1983, the eight-foot tall bronze portrait statue stands atop a Dakota mahogany granite pedestal and captures the Pershing remembered by his troops — standing straight, square-shouldered, iron-jawed, fierce-visaged, field glasses in hand, confidently gazing across the battlefield toward victory and reestablishment of peace and security throughout Europe.

Engraved on the reverse side of the wall behind the statue is General Pershing's tribute to the officers and men of the AEF, published in his memoir, My Experiences in the World War (1931):

"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 whom those who follow may ever be proud."

Source: NPS Website (2021)


World War I Memorial — April 16, 2021 (dedicated)
National World War I Memorial — December 19, 2014 (authorized)
Pershing Park — May 14, 1981

Link to Official NPS Website

Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


Appendices to World War I Environmental Assessment: Appendix AAppendix C (December 2018)

Cultural Resources Technical Memorandum, Final Assessment of Effects, World War I Memorial (December 2018)

Environmental Assessment, World War I Memorial, National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, DC (December 2018)

Pershing Park: Photographs, Written Historical and Descriptive Data HABS No. DC-695 (Date Unknown)

The Design Reviewed and Approved: World War One Memorial (2019)

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Last Updated: 01-May-2021