Our Man in Arlington

July 3, 2018 4:48 PM0 comments

clark-fcnpCorrection: The original column misstated one Finkelstein quote, it now starts with “One topic she alluded to…”

The World War I centennial commemoration is on its home stretch. So I was pleased to witness Arlingtonians doing their part June 28 at an event titled “Arlington Remembers The Great War.”

A speaker also announced the resolution of a tricky racial dispute.

Organized by former county treasurer Frank O’Leary, the Arlington Historical Society and the privately funded World War I Commemoration Task Force, the bill o’ fare at the Navy League building treated the crowd to a color guard in doughboy uniforms.

Opera singer Jocelyn Hunt performed period hits “Over There,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”

Retired Navy Commander Jim Pebley, calling Arlington “the epicenter of our military,” gave an update on the USS Arlington amphibious transport dock ship for which he raised money.

Arlington’s role in the global conflict — 200 drafted, 13 dead, war bonds purchased at three times the county’s quota — was sketched by Marymount University professor Mark Benbow.

Other “did you know?” factoids were shared: The surrender flag used by German troops was a French tablecloth; President Wilson, to relax before going to Congress to declare war, hit the links at Washington Golf and Country Club; and 10 of Arlington’s dead lie in Arlington Cemetery.

Allison Finkelstein, chair of the county-authorized task force, said her volunteer group had organized 25 public events to commemorate the heroism displayed during the “war to end all wars.” She also addressed the delicate topic of responding to requests by some in the African-American community to change the segregated plaque on the war memorial erected in 1931 in Clarendon.

One topic she alluded to was contextualizing the separate listing of African-American WWI soldiers on the memorial. (Fallen soldiers Arthur Morgan and Ralph Lowe are listed separately as “colored.”) The task force will create “an educational space” and “a multi-layer site of memory” that gives the memorial’s entire history, Finkelstein said. (Interestingly, the names were assembled by the American Legion from newspaper accounts because government records were not accurate.)

The event brochure explained that “sadly, following the traditions of racial segregation, the two African-American men” were listed separately at the bottom of the list. “Names of men killed in wars after the First World War have been added to the memorial without regard to race.”

Finkelstein told me she discussed the question with the Arlington branch of the NAACP, the Arlington Black Heritage Museum and the Alexandria Black History Museum.

“The task force is committed to development and installation of informational panels near” the memorial, she said. These panels (money still being raised) “will interpret the entire history of the memorial, with a special focus on its origins as a WWI Memorial.” The idea is to present the complex issues embedded in its history without altering the existing monument.

In time for a final event on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, the panels will be mounted in a park surrounding the memorial.

That’s not a perfect solution for Scott Taylor, president of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington. “It’s a shame that those African American WWI vets are still listed below the white vet names,” he told me. “We call on the community, the government and historians to come together for solutions to make this right,” he said. “The government has laws against changing these memorials, but an exception should quickly be made. After all, this is the 21st century.”

***

Little league baseball players at Bluemont Park may notice something odd beyond the center-left field fence of Diamond No. 3.

A “No Mow Zone” sign has been erected beside the bike path by the county Parks and Natural Resources Division. The text explains how the “re-forestation” benefits the ecosystem and controls water. The result: a jungle of exotic plants behind the outfield.

If a player is lucky enough to hit a home run, teams may have trouble recovering the ball.

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