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tv   American Artifacts World War I Battle of Saint- Mihiel  CSPAN  August 17, 2021 5:55pm-6:37pm EDT

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c-span is c-span's online store. there's a collection of c-span products, browse to see what's new. your purchase will support our nonprofit operations and you still are time to order the congressional direct write with contact information for members of congress and the biden administration. go to on september 12th, 1918, the american expedition an ary force under john j. pershing launched
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their first independent operation, to visit a few key locations and to learn about the battle of saint mihiel, saint mihiel was a town inside of bulge in the 400 mile trenches of the western front that the germans had occupied since 1914. to begin the story, here's a portion of 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 st. mihiel. the germans had held it for 25 miles wide since early in the war, penetrating the allied lines 16 miles, it enabled the enemy to harass porpgss toward mets or sedan. more than half a million army
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troops assembled for the traffic of crushing it out of position. 15 infantries were moved into position. then, at the end of the day, first army was ready for the first independent operation against the enemy. at dawn, on the 12th, in a drizzling rain, the attack was launched. for the enemy, saint mihiel was an unpleasant surprise. within days the americans were deployed along a new line. general pershing considered the victory a birthday gift to him on september 13th and in a
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statement issued to the man he said this striking victory probably has done more than any single operation of the war to encourage the tired allies. >> built on a high, isolated hill, this memorial commemorates the capture of the salient by the american first army. >> we're standing at the montsec memorial established by the american battle monuments commission to commemorate the saint mihiel offensive. it was the first major battle by the americans as an independent force. it occurred from september 12th through 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 the salient. the attack was extremely important to american commander
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general john j. pershing. pershing had his sights set on saint mihiel since he first brought the americans over in the early summer of 1917, but it wasn't until more than a year later when he had enough forces to launch this attack. the organization of the attack began in august of 1918. that's when general pershing formed american first army, the first tactical unit independent of the french and british forces. pershing met with he met with ferdinand foegs, the commander of all the allied forces. pershing had it in his mind to attack st. mihiel using an extensive force of american troops. forbe originally agreed to this but as fosh planned a major offensive that took place in september of 1918, which would
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involve all the armies on the western front, he wanted pershing to either relinquish the saint mihiel attack or reduce it. pershing was livid. he and fosh went at it in a number of meetings. finally, the two of them compromised. it would be a reduced attack. the attack was set to take place on september 12th of 1918. however, the major offensive, which would ultimately by the 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. marshal. marshal sat down with a stack of maps and created the operational orders. ultimately, 550,000 american troops launched the attack on
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september 12th. four hours preceding the infantry were more than 3,000 french guns, manned by both french and american gunners. they fired at the german positions, including where we're standing which is the high ground in the saint mihiel salient montsec. in front of me is a map created by the american battle monuments commission when they established this entire monument here to commemorate the american offensive. it started again in the early morning hours of september 12th, and you can follow the american advance directly in front of me is the monument that we're standing on. the americans swept through there, drove the germans from the high ground, and continued further north. to the right is a swampy area called the plain of the wurve. it was a sort of flooded area that had actually seen american
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fighting back in april of 1918, involving the 26th division troops from the new england area. in front of me are these red lines, zigzag, those are actually french trenches that the americans used for their 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 had been trying to attack the salient since 1914. 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. the americans jumped off early in the morning of september 12th, 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.
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germans who had withdrawn, stopped and fought rear guard action, so fighting actually continued through september 16th, but by that point, the americans had been successful and probably could have gone on further where the germans had coal fields and mines that they had used but the battle plan said for them to stop once the objectives because now they had to fight the larger offensive in the region. also, in the battle were more than 1,400 aircraft, the largest concentration of planes during the war. the americans flew many of them, but also they included french pilots, british pilots and 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 else
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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 to withdraw, and they were starting to move their troops but they didn't move them quick enough, and by the end of the day of the 12th, the americans reached not only the main objectives for that day but many of the objectives for the following day. and so by mid-morning of september 13th, the whole salient had been liberated. there was sporadic fighting that went on through the 16th. it was the 13th of december that
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general pershing turned 68 years old. when news of the great american victory reached the newspapers, he was touted as a great american hero. headlines from 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 cellars outside with very little electricity. they had very little food. many of them living 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 they had not seen for the past three years. >> now america's soldiers were moving to the beat of the muffled drums of history. because they had fought so decisively as an integrated american force, they were moving in the long tradition of their country, a tradition stretching back across the flats of yorktown, through the rolling
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fields of gettysburg, up the rugged slopes of san juan hill. the man who had built it then into this integrated forest had by now made his unique mark on the history of his times. 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. a battle was his as well as theirs. he had confidence in them, and they gave him their trust and respect. >> we're looking north from montsec, which is the high ground overlooking the whole saint mihiel 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 gone around montsec and tried to liberate the villages first, they would have been decimated by german artillery and machine gunfire.
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once montsec was taken, it was a rapid progression. for example, looking ahead north is the village of hattonchatel, which was conquered by the 26th division, a new england division made up of troops from connecticut and massachusetts and maine. i'm standing in the village of hattonchatel on rue miss skinner. the reason it's named l. skinner is she was a wealthy socialite from holy oak, massachusetts, who took to heart this village that had been destroyed by the germans. the germans had opened it for four years since 1914, and it was liberated by the american 26th division. the 26th division was made up of national guard units from new england, including massachusetts
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where bell grew up. she was a graduate of vasser college, in fact, was 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, and then came back in 1919, and that's when she discovered this village, and it was destroyed. she decided that she needed to help out. she raised money, gave some of her own money, including clothes to the citizens who had to move back here after the war in decimated conditions. but she helped rebuild the village, including the school that i'm standing in front of right now. plus she set up a wash basin in town, so the citizens could clean their clothes. i'm now walking through the school, and two my left here is a plaque honoring ms. bell
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skinner. and of course it says she was called the god mother 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 monuments commission to commemorate the activities of the americans who liberated this village, and many others like it beginning on september 12th of 1918. as the americans headed in this direction, they liberated villages one by one as the germans fled. eventually the 26th division, the new englanders reached hattonchatel where the germans had left but they were still fighting in and around the village.
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much of it left totally in ruins, including the school that i'm standing in that ms. skinner would spend her own money to rededicate and rebuild after the war. you're looking at a chateau that had been ruined during the war when bell skinner came to hattonchatel to help restore the village, she also bought and restored the chateau, and she lived here for many years. bell would die in 1928 in paris.
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you're looking at the ruins of a chateau here in the village of saint, in the heart of the saint mihiel salient. the 42nd division had jumped off and like the other american divisions was a rapid advance clearing out the villages in the salient as the germans fled. major william donovan, also known as wild bill was a battalion commander in a rainmo division. later on we know him best as the head of the office of strategic services during world war ii. but 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 this experience here coming to the chateau. behind the manner house, which you see behind me, he found a
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cash of 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 where he encountered, as he said, poor people who for four years had been with the germans. i one i ate with on the night of the 12th had not been out of the sight of the germans in four years. every night, as they prepared the meals for her officer's guests, she had to return to the cellar. the night she met us, she put on her best skirt and went out to visit with the neighbors for the first time in 12 years. it was in horrible disarray, during the wear 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 who of
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course was a chaplain with the 42nd division new donovan quite well, and he described him as a man in his middle 30s, very attractive in face and manner, the athlete who kept him in perfect condition. after the battle of saint mihiel, the division would play a significant role in the offensive. during the middle of october, the rainbow division during the operation tasked with taking the difficult positions at the deli. a major defends line that was 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 years after world war i ended.
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>> a few miles from the montsec monument, the saint mihiel cemetery is the final resting place of 4,000 americans who died in the region in 1918 and 1919. we visited the cemetery with historian mitchell, to talk with hayes, the u.s. government employee who manages the cemetery and the montsec monument. >> are we actually on part of the saint mihiel battlefield. >> we are in the very middle of the whole battlefield. behind you, the 89th division came to us, and salted across the cemetery and on the afternoon of the 12th of september, that front gate is where the 89th division dug their defensive positions for the night. and then the next morning on the morning of the 13th, they continued the assault going north. so we are actually on the land that the 89th fought on, and if you were here on the 12th of
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september, 1918, and you looked west, you would be looking over the 42nd division, east, the 32nd division. we are in the middle of the whole battlefield, men across this area, across the morning of the 13th. the soldiers lay here, and they're permanently buried here. it's basically a cemetery that was built started after the war was over. and it was basically as a concentration cemetery, so what the soldiers actually did was we had soldiers in an area around here from about 10 kilometers south, 10 east, 10 west, we actually did sweeps over the territory, sweeps over the area looking for our dead. and when they would find our dead, they would bring them here and bury them in the temporary cemetery here. that's how the cemetery started, laid out in march of 2019, and
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the first men and women buried in april of 1919, the same combination of time asking families where they wanted them permanently buried. all that was in conjunction. that created that temporary cemetery. if you look behind me in the area where plot b is at, that is actually to the left over there. it was actually where the temporary cemetery was first created. okay. then after the families got to choose where the soldiers would be buried, that's when all the soldiers were put into caskets, 65% roughly were taken back to the united states, and the rest were buried here. >> the american mc is the smallest entity of the u.s. federal government. everything you see out here is paid for by the u.s. taxpayer. all right. now it started in 1923, and it's kind of a convoluted story but it's the reason it's not called
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the american battle cemeteries, you know, association or administration is that we actually started to create monuments for the soldiers and how they fought in world war i, and the cemeteries came under us at a later period when they actually started figuring out that these cemeteries were going to be permanent, who's going to look after them. it folded under us and melded into the abmc looking after the cemeteries. general pershing is the father of abmc, his hand print, his fingerprints are still here today still here today and he basically put down a lot of rules and regulations that we still live by today that control what we do. one of the things with pershing was if you notice whs you walk in, there's no segregation of the troops. no difference with males and females. no separation of the ranks. everybody is spaced in the middle of the cemetery.
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he did not allow any difference with having a plot for officers or a plot for african-american soldiers. he didn't allow that separation and that's where you get these patterns of everybody being in a mix. we get the question a lot of where are the officers? or you have women here? where are the women? they're with everybody else. they're spread out. his footprint is there, plus, when we created the world war i cemeteries, he was the final yes or no if something worked. we have a planting plan that actually tells where all these trees have to go. every single tree is marked on the plan. and to make sure you're looking at the proper planning plan, you look at the bottom corner or top corner and you'll actually see pershing's signature on it. if pershing's signature is there, that is the golden rule. we do not violate that plan. that's what we look for. all the plans, especially with world war i, that's the rule.
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his print, his name is something we go by, anytime there's a day about a discussion. if a tree dies, we go to the planting plan. if we discuss a wall coming apart or damage to it, we refer to the pershing, the plans and look for his name and that's the one we look for. the cemetery, as we understand, was purchased by the u.s. government. for each tract of land that's going to be where the cemetery is at today. the u.s. government purchased that from the home owners and then they turned around and sold it back the french government one french frank and that gave the property -- the ground is actually french-owned territory. one of the misnomers, we call them abc lores, is the ground is actually owned by the french government but everything that's on the ground or the soldiers in the ground is owned by the u.s. government. so, there's an interesting perspective to look at it in the
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context that if the u.s. government ever chose to the disinter all these soldiers, the land goes back to the french. instantaneously it goes back to them. but all the buildings and everything else that's here, like the crosses and everything, are owned by the u.s. government. it's an interesting agreement we made and the french made for us so we could have these beautiful historic locations for these men to rest peacefully. when we created the area, admc was created, one of the reasons is because military units at the time were creating monuments and little monuments spread all over the battlefields. it was created to stop the individual monuments from being put up and designed in the middle of farmers' fields and to control that erroneous placement of monuments. so the admc was in charge of
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putting up large monuments to remember a army or large action or advance like the battle of st. mihiel. in that essence nobody from the united states had the position to put up a monument anywhere. the law was passed. there was nothing they could do about it anymore. an earlier question is pershing has a strong control of what's going on in the cemetery. he was inspecting a monument of another piece of artwork we have for the cemetery and looked on the very back of this studio and saw a giant cross with a soldier standing in front of it and he talked to the artist and said what is that? and there's a discussion back and forth about what it was. and he said i'm putting this up where the mother of one of the soldiers buried in your cemetery wants this put up where her son died. and pershing said, oh, no, you're not. the discussion started with the mom of the soldier and he said i'm putting it up and pershing said no, you're not.
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and pershing basically put his foot down and said you're not putting the monument up, so they started the discussion, what can we do with this piece of art work, where can we put it up. the final part was they can put this in the cemetery where your son is buried. the difference is it cannot look exactly like your son. it cannot be an exact replica of your son but now notice it is an officer. so, it does have the same features of her son being an officer and it was donated by her to the cemetery and eventually the rights were signed over to us. this is the only artwork created by an outside family given to the admc. all the other pieces were created by the abmc. and if we go over here, i'll show you where her son is buried. this was where her son was buried and the conversation actually went on like this. when you come in the cemeteries,
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you have to remember what you see today was not the way it looked in the 1920s, okay? the trees weren't here. other architectural features didn't exist. so, she wanted her son buried next to the flag pole. in that period, 1920, 21, 22, 23, the flag pole actually sat where the eagle was at. we did do that. we buried her son next to the flag pole, near the flag pole. but when we came through, late 1930s and restructured the cemetery, we moved the flag poles next to the cemetery. but we kept our word to bury her son here. so, this is where her son was buried. 45% of the soldiers that are buried here died during the offensive. outside of that, the american troops trained under french command from this area south of here, where the salient was south all the way to the swiss border. they trained under the french
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command. so, soldiers are getting killed, dying in action, and getting killed training on the frontlines. and they were gur ri -- buried in temporary cemeteries. after the war, the families got to choose where they'll be buried. that mix, along with soldiers who died after the war was over, basically after influenza, spanish flu is what killed most of the soldiers. they had the same right that soldiers who died in combat, because they died for their country. they happened to die of disease. we have soldiers that died of other kinds of diseases that today you take a pill and i would get killed from. they died from if in 1918, 1919. it is a mix of that. people always ask who were the first person buried here and who was the last person? i cannot tell you who the first person was but i definitely know who the last one was. in 1970 a farmer was cleaning out a retention pond behind his
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house about 6 kilometers behind me. and while he was cleaning out this retention pond, he came across human skeletal remains. he started digging around and didn't take him long to figure out it was a soldier. so, instantly all civilians around here know if you find remains and it looks like a soldier, you stop because it's probably someone from world war i. instantly he got ahold of the local mayor. they came over and they actually finished a disinternment of the area. they collected all the remains, and collected a piece of identification they could find. buttons. we'd call it a meal card today and his dog tags were there. they put this in the mayor's office and the mayor drove to the superintendent's office and said i think we found one of your soldiers. instantly right then, the next phone call goes to mortuary they came out, did a
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disinternment, and collected a few more bits of remains, went the mayor's office, got the skeletal remains and went back to germany. they did an identification really fast because he had his dog tags and id card on him. shortly after that, the family was contacted and asked where would you like the soldier buried? where do you want your loved one buried? and the family said i want him to stay there. so, 1971, we had a full military funeral for howard heel. he was the last soldier here, and if you look at the base of his cross, you'll see the double zero. it's because the cemetery was full. the cemetery was complete at that time, and the family said they wanted him buried here. so we actually added this space here inside, you know, out of the row in the cemetery, and so that's why he's not one through 29. he's actually 00. that's when he was buried here in 1971. full military funeral, just like any soldier gets today. >> you put up this interpretive
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marker? >> we put up these markers. and you notice we have it in english and a description in french because most of our visitors speak english or french and a brief synopsis of what happened to him. orb why he's there. a brief story of him. and if you notice here, it says howard heel also has his name on cemetery because howard heel has his name on the wall as missing inside the cemetery, inside the museum. this is the memorial chapel, we call it, and it's also in the olden times referred to as the museum. that's the original term is to call it a museum. and on the left, you've got the chapel because after the war, the families got to choose, so we have the soldiers that were taken back to the united states. roughly 65%, and then the majority were buried in our cemetery. if we did not find a soldier's remains, we wanted to remember them somewhere. so, when we go in here, you'll be able to see the walls of the
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missing. so, we did not forget them. >> this design is unique. none of the other cemeteries had the dough boy as the handle. >> yes, we're the only one. we're the only one that has it. and it's probably the most photographed architectural feature in the cemetery. everybody takes a picture of dough boy's head. which is very unique. these doors are actually, if you look at them, they're bronze doors and put up in 1932, 1933 and they work phenomenally. they're heavy but kids can open them up, and they work magnificently. never been replaced. it's deceptive, you have the curve of the wall, the doors are actually curved too. when you look down them, you can see it's got a curve to the door, so the doors were cast to fit the curve ot wall. it's a beautiful piece of architectural work. .
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every one of the cemeteries has a battle map, and this is the battle map, so you can actually see where the salient was, the cities, you have up here in the far left, you have verdund and each color, you'll see the one here, the 42nd, the 89, the 2nd, the 50th, the 90s and 82nd. each one of those, to think conceptually is about 25,000 soldiers, along with the 26th and the 4th up on the far western flank, because this is called the southern flank. that's called the western flank. that's how many men are out here. there was about 550,000 american soldiers here, but this map is so you can come in here, and you can get an idea of where the divisions have fought. you can see montsec, and you can get an idea of where someone from a particular division was at. so that's why we have these battle maps.
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this is a beautiful pete of architectural work right here. they actually cut these out to get the lakes and rivers and everything perfect. this is an artist who did this work here. but when you look behind me to the other two walls, these are the walls of the missing. these are the soldiers that disappeared on the battlefield. it does not mean that they're not as an unknown in the cemetery. they could be an unknown. we just don't know. but they're gone. so, to make sure we didn't forget them, we put up the walls of the missing. now, when you look at one of our walls of the missing and you see this rosette here, that means he's no longer missing. that's how we signify to the world that captain welsh is no longer missing is because we marked him with a rosette. and if you look around here, you'll find ten rosettes, if you look at the wall behind us, up here, and here you'll see her
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he'll on the very top. there's howard, the same soldier we visited in the cemetery is howard heil's rosette. and you can look at a lot of the divisions. you're going to see similar dates with them. you'll see like a lot of the divisions, you'll see from september 12th to september 16th, you're going to see most of their soldiers went missing in that period because that's when they were fighting here. or you might see on another date when they were trained on the front lines with the soldier earlier and you'll see different soldiers went missing at that period of time. and a lot of them you'll see where a division, you'll see them grouped together on a specific date because they all were lost at one time in one battlefield. but we do have next of kin that come visit the name on the wall. we do. people will come visit them, because that's all the family has. that's the only thing we have to remember them. talking about the story with the beale family, the piece of
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artwork that pershing was looking at at the time when he was in the studio is this. this is what he was inspecting. and it's basically the concept that, that's an urn. and pegasus is attacking the souls to heaven. that's why we are in the middle between the chapel and the museum, this piece of art work is here. it's basically a piece to show that all these souls went to heaven. they paid their final price, and they can go now. but if you look behind us, you can see montsec. so during the battle here, if you could see montsec, the germans could see you. and so that's where our monument is at the top of montsec. but the cemetery and the architectural features and the horticulture features were put in place so you could still see it from the cemetery. that was purposely laid out and designed. we're stepping here.
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this is the memorial chapel. these are one of the things that happens in the ab and c that i wish i could answer. we understand that this mosaic was created in the united states by an artist. and then transported here and put on the wall by a french artist. how that physically happened, i do not have the answer. i wish i had the answer but i do not know. what you're looking at is an angel sheeting the sword because for these men, their battle is over. they can rest in peace, and that's why the sword is being sheathed. but everything you see at an abmc cemetery has some semblance. the french and american flags are facing each other. because the americans and french fought side by side here. so, everything was here and made for a reason. everything you see in this room has been here since 1933, 1934,
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except for a few minor changes, like a plastic sign or the tablets and the moses, everything else is original. that goes back to the idea of pershing's thumbprint. when he did something and signed off on it, it stayed and we don't change it. so, everything else has been since 1934, 1935, 1933. in that period of time. and what i'm told is it's never damaged. it's basically in its original view. and the pieces don't fall off. it's like a magnificent piece of artwork. it's beautiful. why is it worth it? because we can never forget when someone gives his life for us or our country. we can't forget that and these men died for us. they died for france, they died for the rest of humanity to try to improve the world. it's the way the american soldier is. the american soldier's still
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doing it today. he's going out there and not fighting for himself. he's fighting for everybody else around him to give him freedom. that's what these soldiers did, they died trying to give france back their freedom. what i can say is this, i have never had a american say this is 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 or women that went out here got to go home, walk their daughter down the aisle, see their son get married or sit in a lounge chair or something or rocking chair in their front porch and die of old age. these people didn't do this. they died at a young age for their brothers and their sisters around them, and they died and when they died, they gave their life to somebody else. let's not forget them. can't forget them.
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next, phillip zelikow talks about his book "the road last traveled," the secret battle to end the great war 1916 to 1917. it examines a five month period during which the united states, the united kingdom, and germany attempted to negotiate a peaceful end to world war i, two years before g


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