America in World War I

The United States entry into World War I was in 1917.  At least, that is the official date.  For the most part, America chose to stay out, even after German forces torpedoed the British passenger ship the Lusitania in 1915, killing over 1,000 people, including 128 Americans.  President Wilson continued to resist becoming a part of the conflict, until German submarines began targeting U.S. merchant ships.  On April 6, 1917, America declared war on Germany.

But long before that date, Americans were crossing the Atlantic to join the French in fighting Germany.  Their exploits and those of the U.S. forces who followed have been the subject of many movies, from the earliest days of Hollywood.  In fact, the first film to win the Oscar for Best Picture was the silent film Wings, a story of best friends fighting alongside each other in the Great War.

Remember Ben Clayton, this year’s selection for Gulf Coast Reads, tells of the aftermath of World War I.  We read of Ben, a young man from West Texas, and his death on the battlefields of France.  We get to know him through his heartbroken father Lamar, a man with a troubled past and secrets he finds hard to share.  We meet Ben’s army friend Arthur Fry and learn of their time in battle – and how the war has affected Arthur physically and emotionally.

For a look at how Hollywood depicted America in the First World War, browse through the list below.  Or if you prefer documentary, see one of those listed.

The Big Parade (1925 silent film) – John Gilbert, Renee Adoree
The Fighting 69th (1940) – James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, George Brent, Alan Hale
Flyboys (2006) -- James Franco, Scott Hazell, Mac McDonald, Philip Winchester
Hell’s Angels (1930) -- Jean Harlow, Ben Lyon, James Hall
Lafayette Escadrille (1958) -- Tab Hunter, Etchika Choureau, David Janssen, Clint Eastwood
Legends of the Fall (1994) -- Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Henry Thomas
The Lost Battalion (2001 TV movie) -- Rick Schroeder, Phil McKee, Adam James
Sergeant York (1941) -- Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, Margaret Wycherly
Wings (1927 silent film) -- Charles (Buddy) Rogers, Richard Arlen, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper

America at War, Volume 7, World War I
War and the Road to Victory
World War 1: American Legacy

In Remember Ben Clayton, we also meet characters whose lives are about to be changed by Ben Clayton’s death.  Francis ‘Gil’ Gilheaney, a talented sculptor hired by Lamar to create a statue of Ben and how learning about Ben leads Gil to believe that the statue will be his masterpiece.  And we meet Maureen, Gil’s daughter, who is also a sculptor and wonders if she can ever match the talent and fire of her father.  The art of sculpting is described in detail, and other artists are mentioned, especially Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  For a closer look, check some of the documentaries listed below for some of the renowned artists of the time.

Alberto Giacometti
Auguste Rodin: the Life of a Sculptor
Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master of American Sculpture

Finally, to see some of the changes that occurred in America after WWI, the documentaries here will give you an idea.

The Harlem Renaissance

Special Mention

Norman Rockwell: Painting America – A documentary about the artist who focused on everyday American life – and created many inspiring pictures during wartime.

The Last Voices of WWI: a Generation Lost -- This six-part documentary series features interviews conducted over 15 years with British veterans of World War I. Includes news-reel footage, dramatic reconstructions, and interviews with Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, the two last surviving British veterans of the war and the then oldest men in the world at the respective ages of 111 and 113.

One last note to add.  The Great War officially ended on November, 11, 1918.  The day is still commemorated.  In the U.S., it has become Veterans' Day.  In the British Commonwealth countries, it is known as Remembrance Day, and they still wear the red poppy during the first part of November.  If you'd like to share the story of wearing the poppy with the young ones in your life, check out these books.

In Flanders Field: the Story of the Poem by John McCrae -- written by Linda Granfield and illustrated by Janet Wilson

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans -- written by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh with paintings by Layne Johnson. 









Flickr: CC          : Embarked for France. Western Newspaper Union, 1917          Photo by The U.S. National Archives

Flickr: CC          : In Flanders Field          Photo by shellorz