The county’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I began yesterday with a brief ceremony at the County Building on Clarendon Blvd.
Originally intended to be at the American Legion War Memorial in Clarendon Central Park, the event was forced indoors by inclement weather.
The ceremony was part of a series of commemorative events being held by the county’s World War I Commemoration Task Force throughout this year.
County Board member John Vihstadt, the Board’s liaison to the commission, gave opening remarks, followed by commission chair Dr. Allison Finkelstein. Vihstadt spoke of the significance of World War I to Arlington, as it helped transform the county from a rural outpost to the urbanized home of the military.
“We commemorate World War I because it is not just the story of our country, but our county,” Vihstadt said.
Finkelstein said future events will look to further engage diverse segments of the community, launch community service projects and confront tough issues, like the role of racism in the war effort.
The war memorial where the ceremony was to be held segregates the 12 local men who died in World War I, with two presented away from the others and labeled “colored.” There have been discussions in the past about changing the plaque, and Finkelstein said she wanted to “find a consensus for the best way to address this plaque and respect the challenges they faced in Jim Crow’s America.”
Ed Bearss, chief historian emeritus at the National Park Service, gave the keynote address and discussed America’s involvement in the “war that was to make the world safe for democracy.”