A recent tour of World War I battlefields in France was the latest in a series of initiatives launched by the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library to build recognition of the central role of the 28th President in the Great War. With the one-hundredth anniversary of the conflict rapidly approaching, the Wilson Library is building relationships with a number of national and international groups, including the government of the French Department of the Meuse.

“The Meuse region is the area of France in which the largest battle in U. S. history took place – the Meuse-Argonne Offensive,” explained WWPL President Don Wilson. “On our trip, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet the chief administrator of the region, President of the General Council Christian Namy, who is quite interested in developing cooperative programs in observance of the Great War and in honor of Woodrow Wilson, whom the French revere.”

Mr. Namy, who is the chief administrative officer of an area the size of four or five U. S. counties, hosted the 21 members of the Wilson Library group at a festive reception on the first day of the tour. 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. A copy of the poem is attached.

“Mr. Namy has promised to visit the Wilson Library in the years ahead, and we look forward to introducing him to our community,” said Dr. Wilson.

Following the reception, the 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.   In the days following, 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 that we visited was the Moleville Farm, where the 116th Infantry Regiment, headquartered here in Staunton, fought its way across open farm fields to root the Germans out of their trenches and bunkers,” said Dr. Wilson. “As we wandered through the woods the doughboys captured, one member of our group found remains that were identified as human by physicians on the tour. We reported these to the French police in hopes that they could determine the identity of the dead and, if the remains are those of an American, send them home.”

In addition, the group – which included individuals from Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Dubai, United Arab Emirates – visited the scene 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 also saw the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles where the peace treaty was signed, as well as several other sites frequented by President Wilson. The eight-day 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. Presidential Library educators Ellen Abernethy and Karen Church were among the tour participants.

“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 Staunton’s favorite son to the cause of world peace,” said Dr. Wilson. “We want to keep in mind, however, that those who want to learn more about Wilson and World War I do not necessarily have to travel aboard. A visit to the Wilson Library and Museum with our new World War I exhibit is informative and entertaining.”

Dr. Lengel will deliver an address about World War I at the Presidential Library’s Annual Luncheon on Friday, November 12, at 11:30 a.m. The day before, on Thursday, November 11, at 11:00 a.m., the Presidential Library will hold a special Veterans Day ceremony. In addition, for those who enjoy seeing history first hand, the Wilson Library is planning another tour of World War I sites for next year. Tentative plans call 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. For more information about Dr. Lengel’s talk, the Veterans Day ceremony, and next year’s World War I tour, please contact Robin von Seldeneck at the Presidential Library at (540) 885-0897, ext. 114, or rvonseldeneck@woodrowwilson.org.

did you know?

Wilson was president throughout World War I. He sought a neutral position for the United States and even won reelection with the slogan “He kept us out of war.” Nonetheless, actions by the Central Powers (notably Germany) threatened this neutrality. Following years of attacks on American shipping and citizens on the high seas, particularly the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, public opinion began to turn. The final straw came with the release of the Zimmerman Telegram, forcing the United States to declare war on the Central Powers in April of 1917, joining the war on the side of the UK, Russia, and France.

Woodrow Wilson was President when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

Wilson piloted the ship that brought America onto the world stage. He made the first steps of leading us out of isolationism, violating Washington's tenet of avoiding foreign entanglements.

He led America during World War I. His fervent hope was for the US to join a League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "Life does not consist in thinking, it consists in acting."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "The Constitution was not made to fit us like a straitjacket. In its elasticity lies its chief greatness."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being."

The Seventeenth Amendment was formally adopted on May 31, 1913. Wilson had been president for almost three months at the time. The amendment provided for the direct election of senators. Prior to its adoption, Senators were chosen by state legislatures.

Wilson was the first president to receive a PhD which he got in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. He had received his undergraduate degree from the College of New Jersey, renamed Princeton University in 1896.

Woodrow Wilson could not read during the first decade of his life. Though undiagnosed, he may have suffered from a learning disability

Woodrow Wilson was known as "Tommy" until his college years.

Woodrow Wilson during his boyhood, helped establish the "Lightfoot Baseball Club" with his friends. Wilson played second base and was an avid sport fan throughout his adult life.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to attend the Major League Baseball Fall Classic. He saw the debut of a young 20 year old pitcher by the name of George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

Woodrow Wilson was a graduate of Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University and the only president to hold an earned doctoral degree.

Woodrow Wilson image is on the $100,000 bill although it is no longer in circulation