Friday, June 23, 2023

Victory —
The First Division A.E.F. Monument

Victory by Daniel Chester French is hard to see 80 feet in the air atop her marble column on top of a pedestal behind the Old Executive Office Building. 

The monument was erected in 1924 to honor the First Division of the American Expeditionary Force and their role in the First World War. 

If we could see Victory up-close perhaps the most striking thing about her would be her armor breast-plates; they have their own nipples. The breast-plates simultaneously cover and reveal Victory's breasts. 

Major General Summerall, who as leader of the The Society of the First Division had spearheaded the drive for a First Division monument, noticed this and other details on French's model for the statue and objected that it was “too voluptuous and not sufficiently spiritual.” Paul Richard described her in the Washington Post in 2003: "She wears a plumed helmet, a see-through gown and a breastplate so bold that seen from far below she looks topless.”  As Thomas Brown wrote in 2019:
He [Summerall] complained that the figure was “too voluptuous and not sufficiently spiritual.” She thrust her hips forward too suggestively; the bare arms and scantily clad legs “suggest material rather than spiritual emotions”; and “the breast plates emphasize the development in a way that is most beautiful but that in my judgment is not of the highly spiritual type desired.” The depiction challenged Summerall's vision "of spiritual exaltation, of sacrifice glorified by renunciation, of pride, and of reward," but he eventually acquiesced.

Various inscriptions explain the monument.  On the base of the column on the north side, we find a quotation from General Orders 201, issued by General Pershing on November 10, 1918.

The Commander in Chief
had noted in this Division
a special pride of service
and a high state of morale
never broken by hardship
nor battle. G.O.210-AEF-1918

 On the east and west sides, we find lists of battles in which the 1st Division fought.

Aug. 3-24, 1918
Sept. 2-11, 1918
St. Mihiel
Sept. 12-16, 1918
Sept. 30-Oct. 12-Oct. 26-Nov. 11, 1918
Mouzon-Sedan Operation
Nov. 5-7, 1918
Coblenz Bridgehead
Dec. 13, 1918 Aug. 21, 1919

Oct. 20-Nov. 20, 1917
Jan. 16-April 3, 1918
April 19-June 8, 1918
June 9-13, 1918
June 14-July 8, 1918
July 18-23, 1918

And on the south side above the names-plaque we find this dedication.

Erected by the Memorial
Association of the First
Division and patriotic
friends to the memory of
the dead of the division'
who gave their lives
in the World War that
the liberty and the
ideals of our country
might endure.

On the plinth below, we find a bronze plaque with a list of 5,516 (or maybe 5,599 —The president said “nearly 5,000”—) names of the dead memorialized by this monument.

 Further down the steps the names of units of the 1st Division are carved in granite.

Division Headquarters
Headquarter Troop
1st Infantry Brigade
Brigade Headquarters
16th Infantry
18th Infantry
2nd Machine Gun Battalion
2nd Infantry Brigade
Brigade Headquarters
26th Infantry
28th Infantry
3rd Machine Gun Battalion
1st Field Artillery Brigade
Brigade Headquarters
5th Field Artillery
6th Field Artillery
7th Field Artillery
1st Trench Mortar Battery
1st Machine Gun Battalion
2nd Field Signal Battalion

Train Headquarters and Military Police
1st Div. Military Postal Express Detachment
1st and 2nd Military Police Companies
1st Ammunition Train
1st Mobile Ordnance Repair
1st Supply Train
1st Engineer Train
1st Sanitary Train
2nd 3rd 12th And 13th Ambulance Companies
2nd 3rd and 13th Field Hospitals
Permanently Attached Units
Machine Shop Truck Unit No. 2
Machine Shop Truck Unit No. 301
Mobile Surgical Unit No. 2
Mobile Veterinary Section No. 1
Sales Commissary Unit No. 309
Bakery Unit No. 314
Clothing And Bath Unit No. 319
Pack Train No. 10
Salvage Company No. 22

The 58-ton pink granite shaft was hefted into place on April 28, 1924. According to American Architect, “The entire operation of setting the shaft consumed two hours time, and it was done with two ordinary 25 H.P. hoisting engines...”

and then, Victory was hoisted into her place atop the column.

This Monument to the Dead
of the First Division A.E.F is
being erected by the members
and friends of that division and
will be unveiled on October 4th
of this year

The dedication ceremony was held on the 4th of October as promised. Speeches were made by President Coolidge and General Summerall.  General Pershing could not attend; a letter from the General was read at the ceremony. 

Calvin Coolidge, speaking at the Dedication of the First Division Monument.
The White House found itself with a logistical  problem on the afternoon of October 4th. Coolidge was scheduled to throw out the first ball of the 1924 World Series that afternoon and the A.E.F. society found themselves unable to re-schedule. The president managed to fill both obligations apparently by leaving the ball-game early and arriving late for the dedication ceremony.  See Vet Ceremonies Clash with Baseball in the Washington Times, Sept. 29, 1924. (In the 1924 World Series the Senators —or was it the Nationals (Nats), or the Griffs?— beat the New York Giants at Griffith Stadium. John Kelly, expounded on what else was going on in Washington in October of 1924. And see Kevin Shay on the shifting name(s) of the Washington Baseball Club.)

When I visited in July of 2019, The flower garden in the shape of the “Big Red One” just south of the monument was blooming.

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