Meuse Argonne Public Ledger newspaper article Sept 30 1918 2The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne during World War I is, to this day, the largest and deadliest battle ever fought by American soldiers. (Public Ledger newspaper article Sept 30 1918) 

This Memorial Day, remember the Meuse-Argonne 

By Chris Gibbons
via the Broad & Liberty website

“No two men came out of the Meuse-Argonne exactly the same. Some changed their political outlook. Some grew more idealistic or embittered. Some found God; others lost their faith. All, however, had changed. The country would never be the same.” (Excerpt from “To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne 1918” by Edward G. Lengel)

When I found the World War I Service and Compensation File of 1st Lieutenant John H. Jenkins, I immediately looked at the document’s “Engagements” section. I often do that now when reviewing these files because this section lists the battles in which a veteran fought, which will give me an idea of what he may have endured.

There are two words I often find in this section that always give me pause. I pause because I’ve read extensively about what happened there and I try to imagine the Hell endured by those who fought there. I also pause out of respect.

On this day, my search for the alumni of Roman Catholic High School who fought in the Great War led me to John Henry Jenkins of the class of 1912. I not only wondered what happened to him during the war, but in his post-war years as well, and, again, I paused to stare at the two words I’ve come to know all too well: Meuse-Argonne.

The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in World War I is the largest and deadliest battle ever fought by American soldiers.

The bitterly fought 1918 offensive, the main thrust of which was between France’s Meuse River and Argonne Forest, lasted 47 days, from Sept. 26 to Nov. 11. Nearly 1.2 million American soldiers participated in the battle, and when it concluded, the US had suffered an astounding 122,000 casualties, with 26,277 U.S. troops dead and over 95,000 wounded.

As Edward Lengel accurately wrote, America would never be the same after the Meuse-Argonne, and I would come to learn that those who fought there were never the same as well.

 

Seven Indiana heroes followed for upcoming PBS documentary on World War I 

By Jo Throckmorton
via the Herald-Times newspaper (IN) web site 

Six days. Fifty locations. One thousand six hundred miles. Seven Hoosier Heroes. Four languages. Three countries. One great adventure.

Cpl. James GreshamCpl. James GreshamThis is my final dispatch from France, where I am traveling to learn the deeper stories of seven Hoosier heroes. The little Lexus crossover was put through the paces as we traveled nearly 300 miles every day to tape at just over eight locations. Many of those locations were found down what barely classify as wagon trails back home.

What we discovered was so much more than could be found in books. We had the distinct honor of walking in the same lanes, fields and towns as those about whom we had come to learn more.

Cpl. James Bethel Gresham was from Evansville. On Nov. 3, 1917, in a trench in far Eastern France, he became the first U.S. soldier to die in World War I. 

Pvt. Laurens Bennett StrainPvt. Laurens Bennett StrainPvt. Laurens Bennett Strain was from Bloomington. He was killed in action just after midnight on June 7, 1918, by a machine gun bullet to the head. 

Sgt. Ernest Finley Duncan, of Bloomington, received the Silver Star and the French Croix-de-Guerre. He died in the first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in the war in the Belleau Wood on June 10, 1918.

Sgt. Louis Carl Rupholdt was from Goshen. He was killed alongside a railroad track on July 15, 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in the action near Mezy, France, as he held his post on the bank of the Marne River until nearly his entire platoon was annihilated and he himself wounded. After being carried a short distance to the rear, he continued to direct the defense of the position until killed. 

Lt. Samuel Woodfill was from Madison. He would become Indiana’s only Medal of Honor recipient for action in World War I. Woodfill overtook two snipers and four machine gun nests on the morning of Oct. 12, 1918, in the small town of Cunel, France.

 

program homepageANC Education Program homepage.  

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Education Module 

By Emily Rheault, Education Manager
Arlington National Cemetery

As part of the centennial commemoration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) released a special Tomb of the Unknown Soldier education module. This module explores themes and topics related to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier through digital materials created for audiences of all ages. This module was the fourth education module released as part of Arlington National Cemetery’s (ANC) first Education Program, launched in 2020.

“Who’s Buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” lesson plan. All ANC Education Program lessons align with national standards.“Who’s Buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” lesson plan. All ANC Education Program lessons align with national standards.The development of ANC’s Education Program is being led by Blake Learning Solutions (BLS), a private instructional design company contracted by ANC for this project. In 2019, BLS conducted meetings with ANC historians, leaders, and staff to understand their goals, challenges, audiences, stakeholders, and opportunities. BLS’ team of educators and historians also conducted an extensive review of books, articles, and primary sources relating to the cemetery. From this analysis, BLS identified vision and mission statements, goals, and guiding principles for the ANC Education Program. For example, the program explores ANC as a microcosm of American history and diversity and strives to reach five key audiences. These audiences include families visiting the cemetery, lifelong learners, and elementary, middle, and high school students and teachers. The team also worked with ANC to create a list of themes and modules to develop over the next five years, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier module includes cemetery walking tours for adults and school groups visiting the cemetery, a digital, primary source-based exploration of the Tomb across its history, and K-12 lesson plans for teachers to use in their classrooms. All the materials in this module, and in every ANC Education module, were developed using primary and secondary historical sources and according to museum and educational best practices. The materials also meet Section 508 compliance standards.

After discussing which topics to focus on in this module, the BLS team and ANC History Office settled on three key areas. First, the centrality of World War I to the story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Second, the history of unidentified and unknown service members. And third, the evolving symbolism and public understanding of the Tomb. 

During the walking tour, users visit 14 stops throughout the cemetery that tell the story of the Tomb. These stops include: the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns, the first memorial at Arlington to be dedicated to soldiers who had died in battle and whose remains could not be identified; the grave of architect Lorimer Rich, who designed the Tomb with sculptor Thomas H. Jones; the Mother of the Unknown Soldier Memorial Tree; and the grave of Sergeant Edward F. Younger, who selected the World War I Unknown Soldier. The walking tour also includes questions that encourage visitors to reflect on symbolism of the Tomb and what it means to them. A simplified version of this tour is available for visiting school groups and families with children.

 

 Ripon American Legion namesakesRipon’s American Legion Post was named after the first local casualties of World War I and World War II, who were Frank H. Brown, left, and Francis James Parfitt.

Ripon American Legion named after first local casualties of WWI, WWII 

via the Ripon Commonwealth Press newspaper (WI) web site

Memorial Day, originally known as “Decoration Day,” is celebrated the last Monday of May.

It is a national holiday that originated in the years following the Civil War and honors those people who died while serving in the U.S. military.

This Memorial Day, the Ripon Historical Society honors the two men who the Ripon Brown-Parfitt American Legion Post Number 43 is named after.

The American Legion was founded in 1919, just one year after the close of World War I.

It is a non-profit organization that enhances the well-being of American’s veterans, their families, the military and communities through their devotion to mutual helpfulness.

The Ripon post was organized June 30, 1919. On Sept. 16, 1919, then-President Woodrow Wilson signed an act to incorporate the national American Legion organization and Ripon became a unit at that time.

At the September 1919 meeting, the post was named the “Frank H. Brown Chapter of the American Legion,” in honor of the first Ripon serviceman to have died during World War I.

Brown (1892-1918) was originally from Fond du Lac and had purchased a greenhouse business on Metomen Street with his brother just before he entered the Army.

He was a private with Company D 2nd Regiment and served in France with the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division. The June 28, 1918 Ripon Commonwealth Press reported that he died “from wounds received in action. The first of Ripon’s brave boys to die in the gigantic struggle.”

Brown’s body was not returned to Wisconsin until 1921. The April 8, 1921 Commonwealth reported on the funeral held in Fond du Lac, noting “about fifty members of the Ripon Post American Legion, which was named after the deceased, attended in uniform. ... all the pall bearers and the entire firing squad were Ripon men.”

 

 

NJ artist gives veterans preview of sculpture for World War I Memorial 

By Richard Giacovas
via the Fox 5 New York television station web site 

 

ENGLEWOOD, N.J. - It's been more than a labor of love for Sabin Howard. With each carve, the New Jersey sculptor remembers and honors the brave Americans who fought in the first world war.

"You hear the words 'in service of.' That's what I feel I'm in service of," Howard said. "I realized how much suffering has gone into their experience and how little caring is involved in our society towards people that have sacrificed."

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission chose Howard to create a sculpture for the national memorial to remember a war they feared would be forgotten. The sculpture is called "A Soldier's Journey" and features five scenes and 38 figures.

"He leads the battle charge. After that you have the cost of war," Howard said. "Here is transformed — shell shocked."

Every story is deeply personal and emotional, especially for veterans like Wilfred Selby, a medic who treated soldiers wounded in combat. As he looked at the faces of these sculptures in Howard's studio, he couldn't help but feel overwhelmed.

"It's very emotional," said Selby, who was among a group of veterans given an exclusive preview of the memorial in the workshop in Englewood in Bergen County.

Howard began sculpting this back in August 2019. As each stage is finished, it is taken to a foundry where it will be cast in bronze. All of it is expected to be completed at the end of 2023 and then brought to the National Mall in our nation's capital for a special unveiling on Memorial Day 2024.

Howard's hands still have a lot of work ahead of them. But for this artist, it is the least he can do to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice and who lived this journey —a soldier's journey.

 

Milton Barkley Mackall funeralBrian Reynolds, who is a volunteer at Fort McHenry with the National Parks Service, said First Lt. Milton Mac "was accorded honors never before rendered to any soldier, irrespective of rank." Photos submitted by Fort McHenry. 

A life remembered: WWI soldier exhibited bravery on, off the battlefield 

By Michael Reid
via the Southern Maryland News web site 

In the shade of an old beech tree at the Christ Church cemetery in Port Republic sits a dark gray headstone pockmarked with splotches of moss.

While his grave may be unassuming, the life of First Lt. Milton Barkley Mackall was anything but.

After being seriously injured in World War I, Mackall spent six years confined to a bathtub.

“Lt. Mackall’s story shows one of true heroism even though not awarded as such,” Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs George Owings said. “Meaning that he literally gave of himself far beyond what could be expected.”

“I thought somebody down there should know this story,” said Brian Reynolds, who has been a volunteer at Fort McHenry with the National Parks Service since 2009. “Mackall’s story is the most unique from that era because of his circumstance of treatment.”

Mackall was born July 4, 1893, in Baltimore, but at the age of 9 went to live with relatives in Great Mills, presumably after his mother Anna died in 1902 at the age of 30.

He enlisted in 1916 with the Fourth Regiment, which morphed into 115th Infantry Regiment as part of 29th Infantry Division, also known as Blue-Gray.

Mackall listed his next of kin as an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. I.P. Bowen of Great Mills.

In October 1918, Mackall was fighting in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in France. The 47-day battle, which involved 1.2 million U.S. soldiers, was the deadliest in the history of the U.S. Army, and resulted in more than 350,000 casualties, including 26,277 American lives.

Mackall was crossing an area known as No Man’s Land — the area between opposing trenches — when a sniper’s bullet partially severed his spinal cord in the thoracic area.

Mackall was sent to Army General Hospital No. 2 at Fort McHenry on April 8, 1919, and, in an attempt to lessen the strain on his spine, spent his days in a bathtub suspended by floating bags.

 

east greenwich world war 1 memorial dedication medal recipientsMedal recipients at the World War I Memorial monument dedication ceremony in East Greenwich, in front of the Varnum Armory. Photo: Varnum Armory Museum

Three East Greenwich WWI Veterans Who Didn’t Come Home 

By Alan Clarke
via the East Greenwich News (RI) EGNEWS web site

The observance of Memorial Day brings to mind all the local boys who fought and died in past wars. I found these three news clippings about World War I amongst the papers of the late Charles T. Algren, which were donated to the East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society as part of its permanent collection.

It is fitting to remember that World War I also affected everyone locally and many local people contributed to the war effort, some making the ultimate sacrifice. In republishing these clips from 1917-18, we honor these lads and add a bit of their story to the statistics that often overlook that their promising lives were cut short by this dumbest of all human endeavors.

Local Boy Killed in France
First from East Greenwich to lose his Life in Action

The seriousness of the war was brought home to East Greenwich people Friday by the news of the death of Corporal Richard S. Conover, the son of Rev. James P. Conover, Rector of St. Luke’s Church.

Corporal Conover was one of the first to volunteer for service. Mrs. Conover, mother of the boy, received the sad news at their summer home in Middletown. The father has reached England in the Red Cross Service as chaplain on his way to the battlefield, where he will do first line service.

Prayers were offered Sunday in several of the local churches for the bereaved family and for the success of the cause for which our boys are giving their lives.

An Other Boy Killed in Action
Victor Lorenson dies for his Country

Private Victor J. Lorenson of East Greenwich was killed in active service June 16th, 1918. His death occurred two days before his 20th birthday, He was one of the first to volunteer from this town. He joined Troop M., R. I. Cavalry while they were at Quonset Point, July 1917. From there he went to Boxford as part of the 103rd Regiment. He left for France in October 1917 and has been in active service since March 1918.

He was a member of the Kentish Guards and previous to that of the Boy Scouts. He was well liked by his comrades. He leaves two sisters, Mrs. James Wilding and Mrs. Leslie Carpenter of this town, and two brothers, Charles and Fred Lorenson, the latter in service at the Submarine Base of New London, Conn.

 

Fort PolkThe U.S. Army facility in Louisiana currently named Fort Polk after Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk of the Confederate Army (left) will be renamed Fort Johnson after World War I U.S. Army Sgt. William Henry Johnson (right) who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015. Johnson also became one of the first Americans to be awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France’s highest award for valor.  

Louisiana’s Fort Polk could be renamed after World War I hero 

By Scott Lewis
via the KLFY television station (LA) web site 

WASHINGTON (KLFY) — Louisiana’s Fort Polk could be renamed, along with eight other U.S. Army installations around the nation which were originally named for Confederate leaders.

The announcement comes from the military’s Naming Commission, which has submitted its recommendations to Congress. According to Wikipedia, Fort Polk was named in honor of Confederate Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk of Tennessee. Polk was also the founder of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. He was also a second cousin of U.S. President James Polk.

Under the recommendation, Fort Polk could be renamed to Fort Johnson, in honor of Sgt. William Henry Johnson, an African-American World War I Medal of Honor recipient from North Carolina who served in the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment.

According to the U.S. Army, Johnson and fellow soldier Pvt. Needham Roberts were ambushed by at least 12 German soldiers on May 15, 1918. Roberts and Johnson were both wounded, but Johnson not only prevented Roberts from being taken prisoner, but he advanced with only a knife to engage in hand-to-hand combat and held back the Germans until they retreated.

Johnson also became one of the first Americans to be awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France’s highest award for valor. Johnson died in July 1929. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Johnson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002.

 

 WWI monument Blue Island 2The 4.7 inch Studebaker Field Gun WWI monument in Blue Island, IL is one of the over 300 World War I Memorials that Landmarks Illinois has listed in its new online database of historic World War I monuments and memorials in the state. The 4.7 was built by the Northwestern Ordinance Co. and was the only U.S. made field piece to be used during WWI. The Blue Island Park District acquired this 4.7 from the U.S. Arsenal at Rock Island, IL in June 1937.

Landmarks Illinois publishes WWI Monuments of Illinois Database containing more than 300 memorials of the Great War 

via the Effingham Daily News newspaper (IL) web site

Landmarks Illinois has published its new online database of historic World War I monuments and memorials in Illinois. The Landmarks Illinois WWI Monuments of Illinois Database currently contains information on 311 monuments and memorials such as doughboy statues, plaques, sculptures and public spaces dedicated to honoring those who served in the Great War. Monuments included in the database are located in 158 different Illinois communities.

“We are proud to bring attention to the monuments that honor our fellow Illinoisans who fought or served in the First World War,” said Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois. “Many of these memorials are now 100 years old or more. These historical markers, and those they honor, deserve to be recognized and celebrated.”

The unique database is the result of a years-long survey of existing WWI monuments throughout the state, made possible through generous financial support from the Pritzker Military Foundation. In 2017, in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into WWI, Landmarks Illinois launched the statewide survey to better learn about the remaining WWI monuments in Illinois. In partnership with Landmarks Illinois Director of Reinvestment Suzanne Germann, former Landmarks Illinois Regional Advisor, the late Steve Thompson of Mattoon, and preservation consultant Matt Seymour, conducted the comprehensive survey of WWI monuments throughout Illinois.

“This unique program has shined a light on the large number of remaining memorials throughout Illinois dedicated to the Great War,” said Suzanne Germann, Director of Reinvestment for Landmarks Illinois. “We are grateful to all those who helped with the extensive survey and shared information on memorials in their communities. We hope this new database sparks curiosity and inspires people to preserve the WWI memorials in their neighborhoods so they can stand for another 100 years and more.”

In conjunction with the survey, Landmarks Illinois created and carried out a WWI Monument Preservation Grant Program during 2017 and 2018 to provide financial support to communities wanting to preserve their WWI monuments and recover their dedication-era quality and appearance. The Pritzker Military Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to Landmarks Illinois for the creation of the WWI monument database, survey and grant program. Nearly $75,000 of the funding went toward the WWI Monument Preservation Grant Program, which successfully helped preserve 13 aging WWI monuments and memorials in the state.

 

 

Pickelhaube Pyramids - World War I's Strangest Monuments 

via the Rare Historical Photos web site

Pickelhaube Pyramid--Pyramid of WWI German helmets at Grand Central, Station NYC 1919.Pickelhaube Pyramid--Pyramid of WWI German helmets at Grand Central, Station NYC 1919.This interesting picture, taken in 1919, shows employees of the New York Central Railroad at a celebration in Victory Way, showing off a pyramid of recovered German helmets in front of Grand Central Terminal. There were over 12,000 German Pickelhaubes on the pyramid, sent from warehouses in Germany at the end of the war.

Victory Way was set up on Park Avenue to raise money for the 5th War Loan, and a pyramid of 12,000 helmets was erected at each end, along with other German war equipment. There is a hollow supporting structure underneath the helmets.

While many of the image’s details have been confirmed, the figure that was placed at the top of the pyramid is still subject to speculation. Some sources believe that it’s Nike, the Goddess of Victory. There are also two cannons located at the left and right of the helmet pyramid.

Beyond a well-framed shot, this photograph is interesting for its symbolism, sociological impact, and historical significance. Many people may find the sight of so many enemy helmets too macabre with each helmet representing a dead or captured soldier.

And how does such a public display affect the psyche of citizens? To be located near Grand Central Terminal means it would have been seen by a lot of people. The cannons in the foreground, the numerous flags, the eagles atop the pillars; the symbolism in this shot is very powerful.

All helmets produced for the infantry before and during 1914 were made of leather. As the war progressed, Germany’s leather stockpiles dwindled. After extensive imports from South America, particularly Argentina, the German government began producing ersatz Pickelhauben made of other materials.

In 1915, some Pickelhauben began to be made from thin sheet steel. However, the German high command needed to produce an even greater number of helmets, leading to the usage of pressurized felt and even paper to construct Pickelhauben.

During the early months of World War I, it was soon discovered that the Pickelhaube did not measure up to the demanding conditions of trench warfare. The leather helmets offered virtually no protection against shell fragments and shrapnel and the conspicuous spike made its wearer a target.

These shortcomings, combined with material shortages, led to the introduction of the simplified model 1915 helmet, with a detachable spike. In September 1915 it was ordered that the new helmets were to be worn without spikes, when in the front line.

 

Soldiers of the 32nd Division WWI 32nd 1 1100x825Soldiers of the 32nd Division prepare for the battle of Juvigny on Aug. 29, 1918. The 32nd Division, made up of Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard units that included troops from the Upper Peninsula, became one of the best of divisions of the American Expeditionary Force that served in France during World War I, but it sacrificed many soldiers. 

Michigan-Wisconsin division had major role in World War I 

By Graham Jaehnig
via The Daily Mining Gazette newspaper (MI) web site 

Romagne-sous-Montfaucon is a tiny community in the Lorraine District of France, with a population of about 200 residents.

It is an ancient town but known by few Americans, even though it is of great significance and historical value to the United States.

The reason for its significance is because Romagne-sous-Montfaucon is home to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, which is about 25 miles northwest of Verdun. It contains the graves of 14,246 American soldiers, making it the largest of all the World War I American cemeteries.

Among those buried there are soldiers from Michigan. They lost their lives in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918 and lay now in an area of approximately 130 acres. The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery is, of course, not the only cemetery dedicated to American soldiers who fell in the now nearly forgotten war — but it is the largest.

Among the U.S. military organizations who participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the U.S. 32nd Division, which was comprised of militia units from both Michigan and Wisconsin.

The French allies called the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division the “Les Terribles,” or The Terrible Division. It had earned that reputation in the year or so it was in France.

The “Red Arrow” Division was organized at Camp MacArthur, Texas, in August and September 1917. The organization of the 32nd Division was completed Oct. 15, 1917.

On Sept. 11, the division’s 63rd Infantry Brigade was organized from the 31st, 32nd and 33nd Michigan Infantry Regiments, which were then reorganized. 

 

 Isleib srticle USC DornsifeThe National World War I Memorial opened in April 2021 on the site of Pershing Park in Washington, D.C., named for John J. Pershing who served as General of Armies during the war. USC Dornsife alumnus and Navy captain Chris Isleib helped create the first national memorial for World War I veterans, part of a long career spent telling the stories of America’s military.

“We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.” 

By Margaret Crable
via the University of Southern California's USC Dornsife Magazine web site

World War I is one of America’s most forgotten wars, says Chris Isleib, a retired Navy captain with nearly 30 years in the service. When he began recruiting volunteers for the United States World War One Centennial Commission starting in 2013, he’d ask each person if they had a family member who served in the conflict.

“Hardly anyone knew,” Isleib says. Although the U.S. mobilized more than 4 million men and women and lost nearly 120,000 soldiers during the war, there had been no official memorial built at the nation’s capital in the 100 years since the conflict.

It took effort from people like Isleib, who served as director of public affairs for the Centennial Commission, to secure land and funding to build a memorial. 

In April 2021, the site was first opened to visitors. In 2024, the installation of a 58-foot bas-relief by the artist Sabin Howard will mark its completion. The sculpture, titled “A Soldier’s Journey,” depicts the experiences of those who served.

It was a fitting accomplishment for Isleib, who graduated from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with a degree in creative writing in 1985. He’s spent his career telling the stories of the military, from Hollywood to the Pentagon, to make sure they don’t get lost.

“It’s always been important for me to tell good stories about our troops, stories about their moral courage, physical courage and integrity,” he says.

Sea, ships and scripts

Isleib’s parents both served in World War II and met while they were stationed in San Diego. A college scholarship through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program brought Isleib from the East Coast to USC.

 

jun2022 h17 wwimemorialOne sculptor and his team of artists take on the epic project of conveying the century-old conflict through a massive bronze installation. The massive sculpture by Sabin Howard consists of five tableaux about a U.S. soldier. This is “Battle Scene.” Photo by Vincent Tullo. 

An Exclusive Preview of the New World War I Memorial 

By Jeff MacGregor
via the Smithsonian Magazine website 

“Light is everything,” says the sculptor. And, all at once, it is.

You see light as if for the first time. Not as some condition of simple illumination, but as the maker of solids, the hand, the hammer and the chisel, the creator. You see it sifting down from the ceiling and sneaking through the glass doors, cascading from the two big windows up front, the long room filled with it in every angle and on every surface, the whole place swelling with daylight pouring through the glass bricks out back. Iron light, straw light, light bright as brass, sun-yellow light corkscrewing from the skylights to settle across every unfinished face and figure. Light gathering in the folds of the uniforms, washing the boot tops and the rifle barrels, radiant, hard as marble, soft as lambswool, painting the floors, drifting into the corners like snow, sleeping in the shadows. Light on every body—indifferent light, animating light, sanctifying light.

The sculptor is Sabin Howard. While his tools and materials suggest Howard works in clay and bronze, his true medium is light. And this sculpture, A Soldier’s Journey, years in the making, will serve as the centerpiece of the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. When complete, Howard’s immense frieze will tell the story of an American reluctantly answering the call to war—a deeply personal and individual story and the grand symbolic story of the nation all at once. Across five scenes and 38 larger-than-life-size human figures, it will be nearly 60 feet long and ten feet high. And it may become the greatest memorial bronze of the modern age.

 Sabin Howard is avid. Born and raised in Manhattan, in his youth he and his parents, both educators, routinely visited Italy, where his mother was born. He spent summers there with his grandparents. Back and forth, back and forth. Florence, Turin, Milan, walking museum after museum after museum. Those long cool marble hallways echoing, echoing. He spent almost as much time there as he did in the States, almost as much time in the 15th century as in the 20th. Very early, in his teens, immersed in the art of the Renaissance, he knew what he was called to and what he was born for and where his gifts were meant to take him.

Those talents, honed for years as both student and teacher at places like the New York Academy of Art and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and in his Bronx studio and across tens of thousands of hours of drawing and sculpting and succeeding and failing, have led him here: a converted printing plant in Englewood, New Jersey, and perhaps the most ambitious artistic commission of the 21st century.