2018 will be seeing the release of World War 1 Centennial coins on January 17th. It is being released to honor the 116,516 American soldiers who laid down their lives and the 200,000 who were wounded, so far away from all that was familiar!
The 'War to end all wars' or 'the Great War' or simply the 'World War' (as World War 2 hadn't come yet ! ) would devastate entire generations, topple empires and the world would never be the same!
Before Americans joined the 'Great War'
A seemingly small event triggered World War 1. The Austrian Heir presumptive Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb Nationalist on 28 June 1914. It triggered a conflict so bloody it is still etched in the pages of history as the deadliest. What followed immediately was a state sponsored Serbian blood bath in Austria-Hungary. After a month long political manoeuvring, which was mainly posturing, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914!
The European super powers; England, France, Germany and Italy were all interlinked through a complex network of political alliances influenced by the preceding decades of war, peace and filial bonds. Russia was an ally of Serbia as they shared cultural and religious ties. Russia declared mobilization of it's troops to defend Serbia. Germany was an ally of Austria-Hungary. German Kaiser Wilhelm 2 saw the situation as a way to gain supremacy in Europe and declared war on Russia, even though it was his cousin Tsar Nicholas 2 who ruled there. As France was an ally of Russia, Germany decided to preemptively attack France.
When Belgium refused passage to reach France, Germany declared war on Belgium too. This enraged Britain and France as Belgium was a neutral territory and they declared war on Germany! Like a pack of dominoes falling, a single event toppled the tenuous balance of peace in the region and led to a Global war.
"Lafayette! We are here!"
The Americans didn't want to enter the war. It was a predominantly European situation as far as they were concerned. President Woodrow Wilson successfully kept USA out of war for his first term and got reelected mostly because of a popular slogan "He kept us out of war!" But by 1917, the German U-boats started open warfare in international waters and sunk British ships that carried American passengers and cargo. Wilson entered the war with inexperienced 'dough' boys who had never seen or heard of trench warfare or tanks which became the norm in World War 1.
Nearly 4 million American men and women poured into Europe by the end of 1917 and early 1918 and it was a much needed respite for the war weary Allied powers. Americans still remembered the debt that they owed France, a principal ally for them when they fought the 'Revolutionary war' against Britain. There was a particular French aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette who had fought beside Patriot soldiers, a century back. When American Expeditionary Force troops landed in France, an American officer laid down a wreath of pink and white roses at a ceremony at Lafayette’s tomb. Another officer snapped a salute, and declared: “Lafayette, we are here!”
American soldiers fought fiercely in the following battles which helped the Allied powers to pull in a decisive victory; Battle of Cantigny fought on 28 May 1918, Chateau-Thierry fought on 3 June 1918, the Battle of Belleau Wood fought between 6 June 1918 - 26 June 1918, the Battle of St. Mihiel that was fought on 12 September 1918. Then on to the Meuse-Argonne campaign aka Battle of the Argonne Forest (26 September - 11 November 1918).
World War 1 Centennial 2018 coins - Design
The U.S. mint is releasing the World War 1 Centennial coins this year with the Silver Proof dollars to come out first. This is to commemorate the centennial of America’s involvement in World War I and honor the men and women from the United States who served.
The obverse design, titled “Soldier’s Charge,” depicts a soldier gripping a rifle. Barbed wire twines in the lower right hand side of the design. Inscriptions include “LIBERTY,” “1918,” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.” The reverse design, titled “Poppies in the Wire,” features abstract poppies mixed in with barbed wire. Inscriptions include “ONE DOLLAR,” “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”
The poppies in the reverse are there to symbolize 'Remembrance'. The war in European lands, dug up the earth through constant shelling and bombardment. The poppy seeds which were dormant under came out and in the years that followed bloomed all over the battle fields. This was immortalized by the famous poem written by a Canadian doctor John McCrae when he saw red poppies all over the Flanders' fields' mass cemetry - “In Flanders Fields”.
This year the sale of the World War 1 Centennial 2018 coins is meant to raise fund for the National World War 1 memorial in Pershing park, named after John J. Pershing, who had served as General of the Armies in World War I.
When the last of the guns went silent on November 11th 1918, the entire World breathed a sigh of relief that it was over; the endless shelling and the endless massacre. After a 100 years, it is time to reflect on the millions who gave their lives to end the vastly tragic and unnecessary conflict. It is time to look back and remember, so that we can look forward to the future!