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tv   American Artifacts World War I Battle of Saint- Mihiel  CSPAN  November 11, 2018 3:45pm-4:30pm EST

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the book, they were significant, but they were also forgotten in some way. >> tonight, constitutional law prefers her michael gerhardt talks about to his books, "the forgotten presidents" and " impeachment." prof. gerhardt: i think he did a lot to merit his own impeachment. i think the american congress were looking for him to make mistakes, and then when he made mistakes, he later testified , or when she later held in contempt by a judge for perjury, bill clinton made his impeachment almost inevitable. >> tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span's "q&a." ♪ >> 100 years ago, on the
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september 12, 1918, american expeditionary force launched under the command of general john j pershing launched their first independent operation of world war i. on "american artifacts," we travel to northeastern france to with the story mitchell yockelson to visit a few locations and learn about the battle of saint-mihiel. a town just inside of bulge that the germans had occupied since 1914. to begin this story, here is a portion of a 1960 u.s. army film that gives a brief sketch of the operation. >> in late july, 1918, general pershing created the first united states army under his command. and immediate steps were taken to concentrate american forces at one point on the line. that point was saint-mihiel. ♪ the germans had held an area 25 miles since early in the war. penetrating the allied lines 16 miles, it enabled the enemy to
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harass operations. more than half a million first army troops assembled for the task of crushing it out of existence. 15 infantry divisions were moved into position. by the end of the day on september 11, 1918, the first army was ready for its first independent operations against the enemy. at dawn on the 12th, in a drizzling rain, the attack was launched. [gunfire] [explosions] for the enemy, saint-mihiel was an unpleasant surprise. within four days, the city was obliterated, and the americans
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were along a new line. general pershing considered the victory a birthday gift to him on september 13. in a statement issued to the men, he said, this striking victory probably has done more than any single operation of the war to encourage the tired allies. >> set on a high isolated hill, the memorial commemorates hiel by thesaint-mi american first army. mitchell: we are standing at the montsec memorial to commemorate the saint-mihiel offensive. it was the first major battle by the americans as an independent
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force. it occurred from september 12 to september 16 of 1918. the battle itself strategically helped drive the germans from this area where they had been well entrenched since september of 1914. they created a bulge in the line, which was known as a salient. the attack was extremely important to american commander general john jay version. -- general john j pershing. pershing had his sights set on saint-mihiel since he first brought the americans over, but it was not until more than a year later when he had enough forces to actually launch this attack. the organization of the attack began in august of 1918. that is when general pershing formed american first army, the first tactical unit independent of the french and british forces. pershing met with ferdinand foch. marshall foch was the commander of all the allied forces. pershing had it into his mind to attack saint-mihiel, using an extensive force of american troops.
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foch originally agreed to this , but as foch started to plan a major offensive, he saw taking place in september of 1918, which would involve all the armies on the western front, he wanted pershing to either relinquish the saint-mihiel attack or reduce it. pershing was livid. they went at it in a number of meetings. finally, the two of them compromised. there would be a reduced attack. the attack was set to take place on september 12 of 1918. however the major offensive, which would eventually be the meuse-argonne attack, was scheduled for two weeks later. this meant that as soon as pershing fought this operation, he would have to turn around and get ready to fight a much larger operation less than two weeks later. charged with planning of the saint-mihiel attack was his g3 george c. marshall. marshall sat down with a stack of maps and created the
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operational orders. ultimately, 550,000 american troops launched the attack on september 12, four hours preceding the infantry, were more than 3000 french guns, manned by both french and american gunners. they attacked german positions, including where we are standing, which is the high ground in the saint-mihiel area, montsec. in front of me is a map created the american battle monument commission when they established this entire monument here to commemorate the american offensive. it started again in the early morning hours of september 12, and you can follow the american advance. directly in front of me is the monument that we are standing on. the americans swept through there, drove the germans from the high ground. they continued further north. to the right is a swampy area
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wil called the plane of the -- it was a sort of flooded area that had actually seen american fighting back in april of 1918, involving the 26th division troops from the new england area. in front of me are these red lines, zigzagged. those are actually french trenches the americans used for the jump-off. it should be noted that the americans largely did not fight behind trenches. in this case the americans took over the trenches from the french. the french have been trying to attack the salient since 1914. him several major offenses in the area had failed, so the americans used these trenches, and you can see the zigzag pattern which is typical of a world war i trench. that way they were less in a target for the artillery.
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the americans jumped off early in the morning of september 12 and followed the northward advance, pushing through one village after another. so by the end of the 13th, they had occupied most of the salient. germans who had withdrawn, stopped, and fought rearguard action. the fighting actually continued through september 16. but by that point, the americans had been successful and probably could have gone on further, where the germans had coal fields and mines they had used, but the battle plans had for them to stop once they found the objective, because now they had to fight the larger offensive in the meuse-argonne region. also in the battle were more than 1400 aircraft, the largest concentration of planes during the war. the americans flew many of them, but also they included french pilots, british pilots, and
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italian pilots. billy mitchell, who was now promoted to temporary brigadier general, would lead the air attack in this area. when the attack launched, pershing or really no one had any idea what kind of success the americans would have, since this was their so-called baptism of fire. but the attack could not have gone off more beautifully. the weather was horrible, it was rainy, it was chilly. the americans launched the attack, heading north in this direction of where we are standing. unbeknownst to them, the germans, who had occupied this whole salient, had begun a withdrawal, and they were starting to move their troops, but they did not move them quick enough. by the end of the day on the 12th, the americans reached not only the main objectives for that day, but many of the objectives for the following day. by midmorning of september 13, the whole salient had been liberated. there was sporadic fighting that went on through the 16th. it was also on the 13th of
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september that general pershing turned 58 years old. when news of the great american victory reached the newspapers, he was touted as a great american hero. headlines around the world talked about pershing, the great liberator. and the french people were ecstatic. many of them had to flee their homes in the villages that make up the saint-mihiel salient and lived in barns and cellars with outside with very little electricity. they had little food, many lived ing by candlelight. now they were free. and you can see from the images that the civilians were now allowed to come back to their homes. many of them had not seen for the past three years. [video clip] ♪ >> now america's soldiers were moving to the beat of the muffled drums of history. because they have fought so decisively as an integrated
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american force, they were moving in the long tradition of their country, a tradition stretching back across the flats of yorktown, through the rolling fields of gettysburg, up the rugged slopes of san juan hill. the man who had welded them into this integrated force had made by now made his own unique mark on the history of his time. as a tactician, seeking victory through fire and movement on a fluid battlefield, pershing was proving himself superb. to the men of the aef, who knew him best by the nickname blackjack, he was no myth. the battle was his as well as theirs. he had confidence in them, and they gave him their trust and respect. mitchell: we are looking north from montsec, which is the high ground overlooking the whole salient. it was important that the americans take montsec first, because the germans were in range, and they would have been able, had the americans tried to go around montsec and literate
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tries to liberate the villages first, they would have been decimated by german artillery and machine gun fire. so once montsec was taken, it was a rapid progression. looking ahead, north, is a village of hattonchatel, which was conquered by the 26th division, a new england division, made up of troops from connecticut, massachusetts, and maine. i am standing in the village of hattonchatel on rue miss skinner. the reason it is named miss skinner is because she was a wealthy socialite from holyoke, massachusetts, who took
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to heart this village that had been destroyed by the germans. the germans that had occupied it since 1914. it was liberated by the american 26th division. the 26th division was made up of national guard units from new england, including massachusetts , where belle grew up. she was a graduate of vassar college, the class president. her family owned a textile company with the name of skinner. and she had a passion for france. she came over here before the war, during the war, then came back in 1919 and discovered this this village that was destroyed. she decided she needed to help out. she raised money and gave some of her own money, including clothes, to the citizens who had to move back here after the war in decimated conditions. she helped rebuild the village, including the school that i am standing in front of right now. plus she set up a washbasin in town, so that citizens could clean their clothes. i am now walking through the
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school, and to my left here is a plaque honoring miss bell skinner. and of course it says, she was called the godmother because she took care of the citizens of the village after the war. and she was so concerned about the inhabitants. walking out into the courtyard, you get a magnificent view of the whole saint-mihiel region or the saint-mihiel salient, as it was known during the war. directly in front of me is the montsec monument. we are west of the monument. but the monument was placed by the american battle monuments commission to commemorate the activities of the americans who liberated this village, and many others like it, beginning on september 12, 1918. as the americans headed in this direction, they liberated villages one by one. as the germans fled. eventually the 26th division of
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new englanders reached hattonchatel, where the germans had left, but there was still fighting in and around the village. much of it left totally in ruins, including the school i am standing in that miss skinner would spend her own money to rededicate and rebuild after the war. you are looking at a chateau that had been ruined during the war. when belle skinner came to hattonchatel to help restore the village, she also restored and rebuilt this chateau she lived in for many years. she would die in 1928 in paris. [church bell rings]
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mitchell: you are looking at the ruins of a chateau right in the heart of the saint-mihiel salient. early in the morning of september 12, the 42nd rainbow division had jumped off. and like the other american divisions, was a rapid advance, clearing out the villages of the salient as the germans fled. major bill donovan, also known as wild bill was a battalion commander in the rainbow division. later on, we know him best as the head of the office of strategic services during world war ii. during world war i, donovan was in the thick of the fighting here in the salient. when he reached the village, he came upon the chateau, and this is where he established his headquarters. he would later write about what his experience was here coming to the chateau.
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behind the manor house which you see behind me, he found valuable paintings, porcelains, and furniture in the courtyard. apparently the germans were unable to carry it as they fled from the village. donovan then toured the village which he said poor people have been with the germans. "the one i ate with on the night of the 12 had not been out of sight for the germans for four years. every night she prepared the meals for officers' guests, she had to retire to her cellar. the night she fed us, she put on her best skirt and went out to
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visit her neighbor for the first time in four years. during the war, when it was lived in by the germans, it was one of the most elaborate residences in this region." you can see by the photographs placed in front of the chateau that at one time the manor house was beautifully and elaborately decorated. father francis duffy, the chaplain with the 42nd division, knew donovan quite well. he described him as a man in his middle 30's, very attractive, an athlete who always kept himself in perfect condition. after the battle of saint-mihiel, the 42nd division would play a significant role during the later meuse-argonne offensive. during the middle of october, the rainbow division was tasked with taking one of the more difficult positions, the cote de chatione, a major defensive line part of the hindenburg line. the battle would last for three days, and many of the soldiers in donovan's battalion would be either severely wounded or killed over those three days of fighting. donovan would be a recipient of the medal of honor a number of
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years after world war i ended. >> a few miles from the montsec american monument, the saint-mihiel cemetery is the final resting place of over 4000 americans who died in the region in 1918 and 1919. we visited the cemetery with historian mitchell yockleson to talk to the superintendent, a u.s. government employee who manages the cemetery and the montsec american monument. mitchell: are we actually on part of the saint-mihiel battlefield? jeffrey: we are in the middle of all the battlefields. if you look behind us, the 89th division came to us on the 12th of september, that front gate is where the 89th position dug
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their defensive positions for the night. on the morning of the 13th they continued the assault going north. we are on the land of the 89th fought on. if you are here on that night in september 1918 and looked west, you would be looking over the 42nd division. if you looked east, it would be over the second division. in this area right here, we are definitely in the middle of the entire battlefield. men crossed here and started their advance on the morning of the 13th and left where that front gate is at. 4153 soldiers lay here, and they are permanently buried here. it is basically a cemetery that was built, started after the war was over. and it was basically as a concentration cemetery. what the soldiers actually did, we had soldiers in a region around here from about 10 kilometers north, 10 kilometers south, east, and west. we did sweeps over the area looking for our dead. when they would find our dead, they would bring them and bury them in a temporary cemetery
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here. that is how the cemetery started. it was laid out in march of 1918 in the first men and women were buried here in april 1919. that is the same combination of the time when the letters were going home to the families asking where they wanted them permanently buried. that was the time that created the temporary cemetery. and if you look behind me in that area to where plot b is at, that is actually to the left where the temporary cemetery was first created. after the families got to choose where the soldiers would be buried, that is when all the soldiers were put into caskets. 65% roughly were taken back to the united states, and the rest were buried here. the graves, buried the soldiers in this pattern today. the american battle monuments commission, which we call the abmc just for short, is a small entity of the u.s. federal government. everything you see out here is paid for by the u.s. taxpayer. it started in 1923.
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it is kind of a a convoluted story. the reason it is not called the american battle cemetery association or administration is we actually were started to create monuments for the soldiers and how they fought in world war i. the cemeteries came under us at a later date, when they figured out these cemeteries were going to be permanent. who is going to look after them? then we melded it into what we have now. general pershing is the father of the abmc. he is the man, his handprint, his fingerprints are still here. and he basically put down a lot of rules and regulations that we still live by today, that control what we do. like one of the things with pershing was, if you notice when you walk into an abmc cemetery, there is no segregation of the
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troops, separation of the ranks or males and females, no separation. he did not allow any difference with having a plot for officers or african-american soldiers. he did not allow that separation. that is where you get this pattern today of everybody being intermixed. we get that question a lot. where are the officers or, oh, you have women here? where are the women? well, they are out there with everybody else. they are spread out. his footprint is there. when we created the world war i cemetery, he was the final yes or no if something worked. we have documents. we have a planting plan that tells where all these trees have to go. every single tree is marked on this plan. to make sure you are looking at the proper planning plan, you look at the top corner and you will see pershing's signature. if pershing's signature is there, that is the golden rule. we do not violate that plan. that is what we look for.
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all the plans especially with world war i -- it didn't work in world war ii -- that is the rule. his print, his name is something we go by. every day there is a discussion about something with the cemetery. if a tree dies, we go to the planting plan. if a wall comes apart, we refer to the pershing plan and look for his name, and that is the one we look for. the cemetery and what we understand was actually purchased by the u.s. government for where the cemetery would be today. the u.s. government purchased that from the homeowners.
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they turned around and sold it back to the french government for one french franc. that gave the property, the ground is actually french owned territory. that is one of the misnomers is that -- we call them abmc lores, the ground is owned by the french. everything on the ground, the soldiers in the ground, is owned by the u.s. government. so there is like an interesting perspective to look at it in the context that if the u.s. government ever chose to dissenter and take these soldiers back to the united states, the land goes back to the french. instantaneously it goes back to them. but, the buildings you see here and everything else that is here are owned by the u.s. government. so it is kind of that interesting agreement that we made, and then the french made for us so we have these beautiful historic locations and these men to rest peacefully. when the abmc was created, one of the reasons we were created was because military units at the time created monuments that were spread all over the battlefield. when the abmc was created, it was to stop these individual monuments being put up in the middle of farmer's fields. to control that erroneous placement of monuments.
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the abmc was in charge of the harmonious placement of monuments, large events like the battle of saint-mihiel, the meuse-argonne. nobody from the united states had the permission to put up a monument anywhere. the law was passed. stop. can't do this anymore. pershing had very strong control over what was going on in the cemeteries. he actually was inspecting a monument, another piece of artwork that we have, for the cemetery, and we looked in the very back of this studio and saw a giant cross with the soldier standing in front of it, a doughboy standing in front of it. he talked to the artist and said, what is that? there was discussion back and forth about what it was. he said, i am putting this up where the mother of one of the soldiers that is buried in your cemetery wants this put up where her son died. pershing said, no, you are not. they got into a discussion. the mother said yes. pershing said you are not.
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pershing put his foot down and said you're not putting the monument up. they started the discussion. what can we do with this piece of artwork? the final discussion was to put this piece of artwork up inside the cemetery where your son is buried. the difference is, it cannot look exactly like your son, it cannot be a replica, but you notice it is an officer. it does have the features of her son being an officer. and it was donated by her to the cemetery, and eventually the rights or signed over to us. this is the only piece of artwork donated and created by an outside entity, and outside family given to the abmc. all of these other pieces were created by the abmc. if we go over here, i want to show you where her son is
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buried. this is where her son was buried, and the conversation went on like this. when you come in, what you see today was not the way it looked in the 1920's. the trees weren't here, other architectural features didn't exist. the mother asked -- she wanted her son buried next to the flagpole. in 1923, the flagpole actually sat where the eagle was at. we did do that and came and buried her son next to the flagpole. near to the flagpole i should say. but when we came through in the late 1920's and 1930's, we moved the flagpoles to the back of the cemetery, but we kept word to bury her son here. so this is where her son was buried. 45% of the soldiers buried here died during the offensive. outside of that, the american
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troops trained under french command from this area, the salient south to the swiss border, they trained under the french command. soldiers were getting killed, soldiers were dying in action and getting killed training on the front lines. they were buried in temporary cemeteries. after the war, the families got to choose where they would be buried. that mix, along with soldiers who died after the war was over, after the war from influenza, spanish flu is what killed a lot of the soldiers in 1919. they all had the same right that the soldiers who died in combat had to be buried here. they died for their country, they just happened to die of disease. when we have soldiers of other diseases, you think you get cured, they died from 1918 to 1919, so it is a mix of that. people always ask me who was the first and the last one buried here.
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who was the last one? i cannot tell you the first one was, but i definitely know who the last one was. ok, so in 1970, a farmer was cleaning out a retention pond around his house about six kilometers behind me. while he was cleaning up this retention pond, he came across human skeletal remains. he started digging around and it didn't take him long to find out it was a soldier. you find remains and you think it is a soldier, you stop. eventually they got the gendarmes. they came over and collected all the remains and a piece of identification. they found buttons. we would call it a meal card today and his dog tags were there. they put all of this in the mayor's office and the mayor drove over to the superintendent. he basically said, i think we found one of your soldiers. instantly, the next phone call was to mortuary affairs.
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this is 1970. mortuary affairs comes out and the rest of the disinterment and collected more remains. went to the mayor's office and did an identification. it was done fast because he had his dog tags and identification with him. we figured out who he was. after that, the family was contacted and asked where they wanted their loved one buried. the family said they wanted him to stay there. in 1971, we had a full military funeral for howard heil. he was the last soldier here. if you look at the base of his cross, you see the double zero. the double zero means the cemetery was full at that time. we added the space out of the row, and that is why he is not 1-29. he is double zero. he was buried here in 1971. a full military funeral just like every other soldier gets
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today. we put up this marker in english and in french because most of our visitors either speak english or french, and a brief synopsis of what happened to him. it says howard heil, his location, and he also has his name on the wall of the missing inside our museum. this is a memorial chapel. it is also referred to as a museum. on the left, you have the chapel. after the war, the families got to choose. we have the soldiers that were taken back to the united states, roughly 65%, and the majority of them were buried in our cemetery.
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if we did not find a soldier's remains, we do not want to forget them. we wanted to remember them somewhere. when we go in here, you are going to see the walls of the missing over here. so we did not forget them. mitchell: this design is unique. none of the other cemeteries i've seen have the doughboy as the handle. jeffrey: we are the only one that has it. this is probably the most photographed architectural feature in the whole cemetery. everybody takes pictures of it. this is very unique. if you look at these doors, they are bronze doors. they were put up in 1932 or 1933. they work phenomenally. little kids can open them up. they have never been replaced. you have the curve of the wall. the doors are curved, too. when you look down them, you can see if they have a curve to the door. the doors were cast to fit the curve of the wall. it is a beautiful piece of
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architectural work. every one one of the cemetaries has a battle map. this is a battle map. you can see where the salient was, the cities. you can actually see how big this battlefield was. each color, when you look at the map, you can see the 42nd, 89th, 2nd, 5th, 90th, 82nd, each one of those represents about 25,000 soldiers. along with the 26th is the southern flank. and this is the western flank. that is how many men were out here, about 550,000 american soldiers. this map is so you can come in here and get an idea of where the divisions were fought and an idea where someone from a particular division was at.
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that is why we have these battle maps, a beautiful piece of architecture. the get the lakes into the rivers and everything perfect. an artist did this work here. when you look behind me, these are the soldiers that disappeared on the battlefield. it does not mean that they are unknown in the cemetery. they could be unknown, we just don't know. to make sure we didn't forget them, we put up the walls of the missing. when you look at one of our walls and he see this rosette, that means he is no longer missing. that is how we signal to the world that they are no longer missing.
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when you look around here, you will find 10 rosettes. if you look up to the wall behind us, you will see howard heil. on the very top, under the second division, that is howard, the same soldier we just visited out in the cemetery. a lot of the divisions, you will see similar dates. a lot of the divisions you will see from september 12-september 16. most of the soldiers went missing during that time. that is when they were fighting here. on another date when they were training on the front lines with the french. you will see different soldiers went missing during that time. a lot of them you will see them grouped together on a specific date. they were all lost at one time in one battlefield. we do have next of kin that come
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and visit the name on the wall. that is all the family has. that is the only thing we have to remember. the piece of artwork pershing was looking at at the time was this. this is what he was inspecting. that is an urn. pegasus is taking the souls to heaven. we are in the middle between the chapel and museum and this piece of artwork is here. this piece shows all of these souls went to heaven. they paid the final price and they can go. if you look behind us, you can see montsec. if you could see it, the germans could see you. horticultural features were put in place to give us that so you
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could see montsec from the cemetery. we are safe in here. this is the memorial chapel. these are one of the things that happens but i wish i had an answer. we understand this mosaic was created in the united states by an artist and transported and put on the wall by a french artist. how that happened, i do not have the answer. i wish i had the answer, but i don't know. what you're looking at is an angel sheathing the sword because the battle is over, that is why the sword is being sheathed. everything you are seeing at the cemetery has some sort of symbolism. the french and american flags
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are facing each other to show the french and americans fought side-by-side. everything was made for a reason. everything in this room has been here since 1933-1934 except for a few minor changes like a plastic sign. everything else is original. that goes back to the idea of pershing's thumb print. when he signed off on it, you did not change it. everything has been here since 1934, 1935, 1933. and it is basically in its original condition. the pieces don't fall off, it is like a magnificent piece of artwork. it is beautiful. it? because we
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can never forget when someone gives his life for us or our country. we can't forget that. these men died for us. they died for france and for the rest of humanity, to try to improve the world. it is the way the american soldier is. the american soldier is still doing it today. he is fighting for everyone else around him to give them freedom. the soldiers died trying to give france back their freedom. i have never had americans tell me this was a waste of money. i have had americans tell me this is what they want to see their taxpayer money go to. none of these men and women got to go home and walk her daughter down the aisle, see their son get married, or sit on a rocking chair on their front porch and die of old age. these people did not do this. they died at a young age for their brothers and sisters around them. when they died, they gave their life to someone else. let's not forget them. can't forget them.
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1921, peopler 11, gathered in arlington cemetery for a ceremony honoring the unknown soldier of world war i. >> how did this whole concept of the unknown soldier being honored come about? beginning back to the of the mechanization of warfare that you see expand during world war i. you get a lot more unidentifiable remains. you had a lot in the civil war. people were really struggling with the fact that they cannot figure out who many of these casualties were. and france, in
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1920, barry and unknown soldier. in great britain it was in westminster abbey. the u.s. decided to do something similar. by adea was started representative from new york, who started legislation to buried -- barry and unknown soldier. >> i have walked through the streets before and it is interesting to see how many people turned out. their civilians showing honor and patriotism toward the americans. supporting the role the americans played in liberating france. >> now we are seeing the casket being put on an american ship. >> yes. this ship was famous during the
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spanish-american war. it has a storied history. >> there we see the this barcation.n -- disem that is president harding and his wife length the ribbon across the gasket. casket. >> he will also give the keynote speech. casket is being
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carried on the steps of the united states capital. this is a scene that americans will be familiar with from similar ceremonies and our time. it is put on the horse-drawn bier which will go over to arlington ceremony. let's watch for just a minute. >> there is a really interesting diverse group of people in the parade. there were military groups. they were a very prominent group. but also you have a lot of veterans. female veterans as well. women who served or volunteer during the war. >> there is a reviewing stand in downtown washington dc. >> i believe those women are from the army nurse corps. army.maybe the salvation
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>> some of the uniforms look similar. >> at the 11th hour. on the 11th day. of the 11th month. in 1918. the armistice to end the great war was signed. we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of world war i. watch this weekend on american onstory tv unseasonably -- cspan3. >> on september 26, 1918, the american army and france

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