Twenty-one members and friends of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum recently enjoyed an eight-day tour of World War I battlefields in France, the latest in a series of initiatives launched by the Presidential Library to build recognition of the central role of the 28th President in the Great War. “The trip was delightful, with all participants climbing into trenches and bunkers, learning about America’s role in World War I, sampling some great French food and wine and, most importantly, establishing valuable relationships that should enable us to honor more effectively the contributions of President Wilson to the cause of world peace,” said Dr. Don Wilson, President and CEO of the Presidential Library.
On the first day of the trip, tour participants had the fortunate opportunity to meet the chief administrator of the Meuse region, President of the General Council Christian Namy. The Meuse region is the area of France in which the largest battle in U. S. history took place – the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The Wilson Library group presented a copy of John Milton Cooper’s recent biography of the 28th President and a framed copy of a poem on the armistice to Namy. The poem was written in 1921 by Armistead Churchill Gordon, a former mayor of Staunton who visited the American battlefields.
Following a festive reception hosted by Mr. Namy, the Wilson Library group was treated to a special tour of Fort Vaux, the Verdun Ossuary, and the Trench of Bayonets, where a squad of French defenders was buried alive by a gigantic German artillery explosion. Later in the trip, the Wilson group visited the scene of America’s greatest and bloodiest battle, in which the Yanks drove German troops back more than 30 miles as World War I ended.
One of the special sites the group visited during the trip was the Moleville Farm, where the 116th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Staunton, Virginia, fought its way across open farm fields to root the Germans out of their trenches and bunkers. As they wandered through the woods the doughboys captured, one member of the group found remains that were identified as human by physicians on the tour. The group reported these to the French police in hopes that the authorities can determine the identity of the dead. If the remains are those of an American, hopefully the authorities will send them home or bury them in the Ossuary near Verdun.
The group, which included individuals from Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, also visited the scenes of the Lost Battalion’s siege, Sergeant York’s heroics, the heavily fortified butte of Montfaucon, and the battle of Blanc Mont. When the tour reached the Meuse-Argonne U. S. Cemetery, participants conducted a service of remembrance in the chapel of the facility, which is the largest American military cemetery in Europe with the graves of more than 14,000 people who died in the war. Joseph Labrum, the son of a Pennsylvania World War I veteran, read from his father’s recollections of the Armistice to honor those who fell.
In Paris, tour participants saw the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles where the peace treaty was signed, as well as several other sites frequented by President Wilson. The tour was co-led by Dr. Edward Lengel, a University of Virginia historian who has written the definitive history of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and William Walker, a Presidential Library Trustee and scholar of World War I.
Tour Planned for 2011
The Wilson Library is planning another tour of World War I sites for next year with tentative plans for visits to the Imperial War Museum in London, the site of the Battle of Ypres in Belgium, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bruges. Contact Robin von Seldeneck at the Presidential Library at (540) 885-0897 ext. 114 for more information on next year’s tour.
New World War I Trench Experience at Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum
Those who want to learn more about Wilson and World War I do not necessarily have to travel abroad. Visit the Woodrow Wilson Library and Museum to see our new World War I trench experience. Immerse yourself in the state-of-the-art, fully interactive World War I bunker, trench, command headquarters, and medical triage area complete with lights and sound. You will be transported back to World War I as you journey through the trench to experience what life was like for soldiers as they engaged in battle. See authentic weapons and uniforms from the era as you retrace the unforgettable story of the doughboys.