World War I has become America’s forgotten war.
I suspect that is because the “War to End All Wars” ended up being the “War that Started a Whole Bunch of Other Wars.”
But the first world war had a huge impact not only on our country but on our state. And even though Fulton County was a sliver of its current self in 1917 (when America entered the war), many local men and women made the greatest sacrifice for their country, and their names are nearly forgotten.
As the 100-year anniversary of the United States’ involvement passes, one group is working diligently to ensure Georgia’s stories are brought to light. The U.S. Congress created the World War I Centennial Commission in 2013. Buckhead resident Monique Seefried, Ph.D., is the federal commissioner for Georgia.
Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Buckhead resident Sam Friedman to the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission. Several other notable local residents are also involved including Rodney Cook Jr., Virginia Dilkes, Karen Meinzen McEnerny, Carol and Paul Muldawer, Dr. Bill Whaley and Joe Wilkinson.
The Great War started July 28, 1914 and ended with the Treaty of Versailles, signed Nov. 11, 1918. It was fought mainly between the Allies – the Triple Entente of Russia, France and Great Britain – and an alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austria-Hungry throne, was the spark that ignited the war, but Germany had been rattling her saber long before that fateful event.
The United States vowed to remain neutral — President Woodward Wilson even won a second term on a promise to keep America out of war — but joined the fray in 1917. More than 4.7 million Americans served, and 116,516 gave their lives in the name of world peace.
Suddenly an isolationist United States had a much larger presence in the world. The American ideal of taking care of your own gave way to Victory Gardens and buying bonds in support of a foreign war. And when the men went off to fight, women — who had been marching in the streets for the right to vote — were working in munition factories.
More than 100,000 Georgians served. The state’s legacy can be found in the many forts — from McPherson to Benning to Gordon — where servicemen trained. Many of the American soldiers passed through our state on their way to the conflict.
Fort Gordon was in Chamblee, where Peachtree-DeKalb Airport is today. The famed 82nd Airborne trained there, and may have even started there, though the commission is still working on whether that is fact or fiction.
To the south of Buckhead, at the corner of Peachtree and West Peachtree roads in Midtown, is Pershing Point Park, named in honor of Gen. John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force. The Atlanta Parks Commission dedicated the triangle in 1918. A monument at the south end has the names of the Fulton residents who lost their lives in the war.
Waldo M. Slaton is among them. His name adorns the American Legion Post 140 at Chastain Park in Buckhead. Slaton, the nephew of Georgia Gov. John Slaton, did not die in battle, but rather as a result of the flu pandemic of 1918, which infected about one third of world’s population. It is thought to have originated in a military staging area in France.
The Georgia WWI Centennial Commission has on its website (www.ww1cc.org/ga) many of the Georgia stories. It is also working to identify and preserve all of the World War I monuments and historic markers in the state as well as identifying new possibilities to commemorate The Great War.