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Where to Commemorate the Centennial of the U.S. Joining World War I
Explore exhibitions and memorials to honor the 100th anniversary of America joining the Great War.
Whether you're an art aficionado or a history buff, these museums and monuments across France illuminating a turning point in history, are sure to pique your interest.(Getty Images).
A great way to commemorate America's entry into the Great War is to visit northern France, where a variety of exhibitions and UNESCO World Heritage sites are paying tribute throughout 2017 to U.S. efforts that helped win the war. Plus, exploring northern France is also a great way to learn the fascinating but often forgotten history of this crucial event that changed the world. While in France, along WWI's famed Western Front, you can also savor champagnes, and check out chateaus, cathedrals and medieval cities. This intriguing area is less than an hour from Paris via the high-speed TGV train. Here are highlights of what is, 100 years later, all quiet on the Western Front.
Reims, one of France's most ancient and historic cities, and its magnificent 13th-century cathedral were 80 to 90 percent destroyed in World War I. The Germans shelled Reims for more than 1,000 consecutive days, beginning early in the 1914-1918 war. Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral, where 25 French kings had been crowned, was restored mainly through funds from John D. Rockefeller and other Americans. The Gothic masterpiece, with more than 2,300 statues and exquisite stained glass windows, some by Marc Chagall, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Next to the cathedral is a cooking workshop, Au Piano des Chefs, where founder and chef Eric Geoffroy offers lessons and helps workshop participants prepare farm-to-table cuisine.
Champagne Houses and Cellars
Reims and Épernay, Champagne
The ancient chalk cellars of famed Champagne houses in Reims and nearby Épernay, France, sheltered not only millions of bottles of Champagne during WWI, but also civilians and soldiers. These limestone chalk cellar-caves (known as crayères) are so important that UNESCO granted World Heritage Site status in 2015 to "Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars." At these renowned houses in the Champagne region, you can toast to peace and tour these labyrinthine caves. In Taittinger Champagne's cellars, about 60 feet below Reims, you can see poignant carvings by townspeople and soldiers, plus remnants of a hospital and school. These caves date from the 4th century, when Gallo-Roman slaves mined limestone to build the city of Durocortorum, which is present-day Reims. "On this land of Champagne where we drink the happiness, we lost so many families to war," says Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, president of the Champagne Taittinger brand.
The Château-Thierry Monument atop "Hill 204" is a breathtaking art deco memorial overlooking that town and the Marne Valley champagne vineyards. It is one of the most majestic of many stunning monuments and memorials to U.S. "doughboys" across the Western Front. A re-enactment will be staged, from late August to early September, of the legendary "Hill 204" battle. The decisive victory by the American Expeditionary Forces under Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing helped stop the Germans' thrust toward Paris in 1918. This monument commemorates American and French troops in the pivotal Second Battle of the Marne, and in the major Aisne-Marne offensive and Oise-Aisne offensive nearby.
Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial & Belleau Wood American Monument
This cemetery represents "the story of America. A poor African-American private is buried near a brigadier general," explains Aisne-Marne American Cemetery Superintendent Shane Williams. Its 80-foot-tall French Romanesque memorial chapel, built over a former trench, has sculptures of trench scenes and friezes with insignias of American corps and divisions that fought there. The names of more than 1,000 missing are inscribed, with rosettes denoting the seven men who were later found and identified. The Aisne-Marne site is adjacent to Belleau Wood, where U.S. Marines fought so valiantly and successfully in the 20-day battle that Belleau Wood was officially renamed "Wood of the Marine Brigade" and Marines confirmed their nickname "Devil Dogs." Belleau Wood has remains of trenches, large shell holes, some WWI artifacts and ruins.
Oise-Aisne American Cemetery
About 14 miles northeast of Belleau and Château-Thierry is the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, the second-largest in Europe. This cemetery and its pink and gray sandstone chapel are on the grounds where the 42nd American Rainbow Division fought. More than 6,000 American troops are buried there, including New Jersey-born poet Joyce Kilmer. His best-known poem, "Trees," overshadows his "Rouge Bouquet" poem about fighting men "Dead in their prime..." It was published two weeks after the 31-year-old sergeant was killed by a German sniper.
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial
The Great War's climactic 47-day Meuse-Argonne Offensive "remains, to this day, the deadliest battle in American history," wrote Richard Rubin in his newest book "Back Over There." More than 26,000 U.S. military died in the offensive, and almost 14,250 of them are buried in the 130-acre Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. It has the largest number of U.S. military graves in Europe. (Normandy American Cemetery has less than 9,400 graves on 172 acres.) For American fighters, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive epitomized the First World War, as Verdun did for the French and Somme did for the British, Rubin explained. Be sure to visit the private Romagne 14-18 Museum, filled with soldiers' personal items from the 300-day Battle of Verdun and throughout the 1914-1918 war.
National Museum of Franco-American Cooperation
This museum evolved from the efforts of American heiress Anne Morgan, daughter of financier J.P. Morgan. She was so moved by the war's devastation that she actually moved to Blérancourt in 1917, bought the 17th-century Château Blérancourt and used it as headquarters for her humanitarian organizations. Morgan recruited almost 350 other wealthy women to help the wounded French. And after the war, the women helped build hospitals, housing, schools and libraries. Now, the château is a museum that was reopened on July 4 after renovation and expansion. It has artifacts not only from WWI, but also items dating back to France's assistance in the American Revolution. The early silent films and photographs Morgan commissioned are a must-see. It also contains artworks by French and American masters, such as Fernand Léger and John Singer Sargent.
Blérancourt is near the Chemin des Dames (Ladies' Path), where the disastrous monthslong Battle of the Chemin des Dames occurred 100 years ago. This strategic path, named for the daughters of Louis XV, has been a French battleground dating back to Julius Caesar's First Battle of the Aisne in 57 B.C.
New York City Hotels Where History Was Made
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Edited by Liz Weiss.
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