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WW1 Centennial News for Wednesday July 26, 2017 - Episode #30

Balloon observers part of the War in The SkyBalloon observers part of the War in The Sky

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  • Feature: Orville Wright on winning the war with air power |@ 01:15
  • Feature: James Higgs Balloon Observer |@ 03:30
  • Guest: Mike Shuster on GAS |@ 07:30
  • Guests: Richard Rubin & Jonathan Bratten on building a national army |@ 12:00
  • Event: William C. Gorgas and the Great War in Tuscaloosa, AL |@ 19:00
  • Guest: Dr. Libby O’Connell about the history of food |@ 20:30
  • Feature: introducing the 100 Cities / 100 Memorials Review Committee |@ 27:00
  • Guest: David Craig on the Maryland WW1 Centennial Commemoration |@ 30:15
  • Guest: Laura Vogt on the National WWI Museum and Memorial in KC |@ 36:00
  • Buzz: Facebook post on the Kodak VPK - vest pocket camera |@ 42:00
  • Shout out: to the commission’s summer of 2017 interns |@ 44:00



Welcome to World War 1 centennial News - It’s about WW1 news 100 years ago this week  - and it’s about WW1 News NOW - news and updates about the centennial and the commemoration.

Today is July 26th, 2017 and this week we joined by Mike Shuster from the great war project blog, The Storyteller and the Historian, Richard Rubin and Jonathan Bratten  -  Dr. Libby O’Connell - US WW1 Centennial Commissioner and historian and author  - David Craig, Executive Director of the Maryland World War I Centennial Commission- and Lora Vogt, Curator of Education at the National WW1 Museum and Memorial in Kansas City.

WW1 Centennial News is brought to you by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. I’m Theo Mayer - the Chief Technologist for the World War One Centennial Commission and your host.

World War One THEN

100 Year Ago This Week



We have moved back in time 100 years. It’s the week of July 23rd, 1917

This week 100 years ago - On Tuesday July 24, 1917 A massive $640,000,000 aviation bill passes in both the House and the Senate is sent to the President for signature. This is one of the largest appropriation for a single idea that the US has ever made - and it passes congress with little to no objection -

This is in no small part - because there are so many advocates that believe this incredible new technology of flying machines can be pivotal in the war.

As written in the “Official Bulletin”, the government war gazette published by George Creel, President Wilson’s propaganda chief…  

Mr. Orville Wright declares that:

When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying machine [14 years ago], we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars…  practically impossible. Nevertheless, the world [now] finds itself in the- greatest war in history.

I say that neither side has been able to win on account of the part - the airplane has played.

Both sides know exactly what the other is doing. The two sides are apparently nearly equal in aerial equipment, and unless present conditions can be changed the war will continue for years.

"However;  if the allies' armies are equipped with such a number of airplanes as to keep the enemy planes entirely back of the line, so that they are unable to direct gunfire or to observe the movement

of the allied troops—in other words, if the enemy's eyes can be put out —it will be possible to end the war.

And this is not taking into account what might be done by bombing German sources of munition and supplies.

But to end the war quickly and cheaply, the supremacy In the air must be so complete as to entirely blind the enemy. I believe that by no other method can the war be ended with so little loss of life and property."

And 100 years ago this week, the United States makes a $640,000,000 bet that this is so.


War in the Sky

This leads us directly into our War In The Sky segments where we want to introduce you to James Allen Higgs Jr., a native of Raleigh and a two-time graduate of the North Carolina College for Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, today the North Carolina University’s College of Engineering.

James Higgs signed up for duty at the mature age of 29, intent on going to war. He was a slight fellow of 5 feet, 5 1/2 inches, weighing only 120 pounds.

His greatest ambition, he said just before his graduation, was “to grow.”

Higgs felt that if he signed up as an infantryman, he likely would not survive more than a few days in the trenches.

In an interview in 1968 he said: “I was a little guy, and I couldn’t fancy myself swapping bayonet thrusts with those big Germans, so when the call went out to be balloon observers, I volunteered.

“They took us to Washington and put us in a machine and spun us around until we were thoroughly dizzy, then measured the time it took to regain our equilibrium. I was one of the winners.”

Being a “balloon spy,” as he was often called, was a position unique to the Civil War and World War I. Every day, from sunrise to sunset, it was Higgs’ assignment to crawl into a two-man basket tethered by cable to the front of a truck. Armed with binoculars, topographical maps and a telephone, he would fly high (up to 5,000 feet) over the battlefield and report troop activity to his commanders on the ground. Usually, he was with a French observer who was relaying similar information to his superiors.

As if flying unprotected over the battlefield wasn’t dangerous enough, the sausage-shaped gasbags were filled with highly flammable hydrogen, making them susceptible to fires started by the hot rounds coming from guns below. They were sitting-ducks and favorite targets for the biplanes that attacked from behind the clouds overhead.

Four times over the course of four months, Higgs was shot down, jumping out of the basket and praying that the parachute stuffed on the outside of the balloon basket and harnessed to his back would deploy.

It was anything but a peaceful trip to the ground.

Higgs noted:

“We were wearing parachute harnesses with a rope attached to the ‘chute that was stuffed into a bag hanging outside the basket. Our weight would pull the ‘chutes out of the bags. They were supposed to open when we dropped 300 feet. It takes nearly five seconds to fall 300 feet from a standing start, and that is an awefully long time to wonder whether you are going to live or die.

“The parachute opened with a considerable jolt, but it was a very pleasant feeling.”

Higgs’ got rewarded for jumping out of a burning and falling balloon. Each time, he was awarded 48 hours of leave in Paris to “settle his nerves and get ready to go back up again.”

Which he did all the way up to Nov. 11, 1918, when the bells of Paris signaled armistice between the warring nations.

“The end was an amazing thing,” Higgs said. “I had been hearing guns roaring around and under me, and sometimes, enemy shells and bombs bursting in our camp, for almost a year,”. “THEN --- Sharp at the stroke of 11am , on November 11, they all just stopped. There were no birds or animals in the war zones to make the usual noises, and no machines moved.

“I found myself listening for just any sound, but there was none.”

This story comes from the Alumni News section of North Carolina State’s College of Engineering newspaper.

The link to the full article is in the podcast notes below



Great War Project

Now we are joined by Mike shuster, former NPR correspondent and curator for the Great War Project blog.

We ran a quick featurette in our Social media BUZZ section with Katherine Akey about this subject - Today Mike is here with a more in-depth look at one of the great horrors of this war  - GAS

Welcome Mike

[Mike Shuster]

Thank you Mike. That was Mike Shuster from the Great War Project blog.




The Great War Channel

For videos about WW1, we invite you to check out the Great War Channel on Youtube -  They are into their 4th season making great informative videos about the war.


This week’s new episodes include:

A feature story - Tunnel warfare during WW1

100 years ago this week - July days in Petrograd - Blood on the Nevsky Prospect

And a hardware piece - British Rifles in WW1

Follow the link in the podcast notes or search for “the great war” on youtube.




Storyteller and the Historian

To wrap up our history section on WW1 Centennial News, we welcome our intrepid duo - the storyteller and the historian Richard Rubin and Jonathan Bratten who are going to explore some of the challenges with building a really big army - really, really fast!




Thank you gentlemen! That was - the StoryTeller - Richard Rubin and The Historian - Jonathan Bratten talking about building the national army in 1917.

The Storyteller and the Historian is now a full hour long monthly podcast. Look for it on iTunes and libsyn or follow the link in the podcast notes.


Link: http://storytellerandhistorian.libsyn.com


World War One NOW



We have moved forward into the present with

WW1 Centennial News NOW  - News about the centennial and the commemoration.


Commission News

In Commission news - this past week we participated in the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ 118th National Convention in New Orleans which ran from July 22 to the 26th.

Our own David Hamon went down to the Big Easy to man a commission booth and meet with members of this great veterans’ organization. When we spoke with David, he told us that it has been a “QUOTE” Extremely positive and oft times emotional experience to connect with these vets and their families from around the country.”

US WW1 Centennial Commissioner Edwin Fountain was asked to speak at the event and addressed the membership of this veterans organization which has been such a great friend to the commission.

The VFW also maintains a specific WW1 Centennial website at ww1cc.org/vfw  and you can learn more about the VFW’s national event by following the link in the podcast notes.

Link: https://www.vfw.org/-/media/VFWSite/Files/News-and-Publications/Events/118th-Convention/2017-NOLA-SOE.pdf?la=en_

Activities and Events


Next we are going to give you our upcoming “event pick” of the week selected from the U.S. National WW1 Centennial Events Register at WW1CC.org/events ---- where we are compiling and recording the WW1 Commemoration events from around the country.

Not just those from major venues and museums but also local events - showing how the Centennial Commemoration of the war that changed the world is playing out all over the country.

For example, this week we picked an event in Tuscaloosa Alabama!

The University of Alabama has an exhibit on view through September 29th called “William C. Gorgas and the Great War”.

The exhibit features the story and impact of William Gorgas, a physician and the 22nd Surgeon General of the US Army, serving in that role from 1914-1918 - throughout the war years.

The exhibit is at the restored family home of William Gorgas on the University of Alabama campus.

The Gorgas House Museum serves as an active community resource, committed to “learning” through exhibition, education, and social engagement.

See the link in the podcast notes to learn more.

We invite YOU and your organizations to submit your own WW1 events to the National Events Register at ww1cc.org/events. Click the big red button and get your commemorative event recorded for posterity.





Interview with Dr. Libby O’Connell

Joining us now is Dr. Libby O’connell - a most interesting person! Dr. O’connell was the chief historian at the History Channel, she is a US WW1 Centennial Commissioner, and recently released a history book about… American Food!

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites - has been lauded by the New York Post as Required Reading and it’s an Entertainment Weekly Top 3 Must-Reads!

Libby - welcome - Nice to have you here!

[so Libby - I had no idea…  Food? ]

[ OK - so let’s get topical - When I think of WW1 and food - I think of rationing and propaganda - what was happening to the american plate in those years?]

[Libby, your book is filled with fun facts - like that the first graham crackers were designed to reduce sexual desire… why we use the term “buck” mean a dollar and so on… what are some of the fun - turn of the century - American food facts?]

[Commissioner O’Connell - I have just had the pleasure of meeting a whole other side of you! - thank you!]

That was US WW1 Centennial Commissioner Dr. Libby O’Connell, author of the new book - The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 bites. Learn more about Dr. Libby O’connell and about her new book by following the links in the podcast notes.




100 Cities/100 Memorials


100 Cities - 100 Memorials - that is the name of a program we have here at the WW1 Centennial Commission.

You see, at the end of World War I, thousands of war memorials of every size were built in local communities across the country to honor and commemorate the service and sacrifice of their local sons and daughters.

Over the century, exposure to the elements, neglect and even vandalism have taken their toll on these national treasures.

So on July 15, 2016 - a year ago - the  World War One Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library teamed up and launched this national matching grant challenge to inspire community action and to seed the rescue of these memorials.  

A year later - this month on July 15, 2017 - the grant application period ended and all submission were received.

Now - to evaluate the submissions -  a Review Committee has been assembled. They read, review and rate the submissions based on common evaluation rubric.

The Committee will then make recommendations to the program leadership on awarding  projects matching grants. Their recommendations will go to the program leadership in late August.

We are proud to announce the members of the 100 Cities / 100 Memorials Review Committee. They include:

  • US WWI Centennial Commissioner John Monahan from the American Legion
  • US WWI Centennial Commissioner Dr. Matthew Naylor from the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City
  • CPT Lynn Rolf who is with the VFW - The  Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • Donna Crisp  who is with the DAR - The Daughter of the American Revolution
  • Michael Knapp who is with the ABMC - The American Battle Monuments Commission
  • Dr. Mark Levitch - with National Gallery of Art, and founder of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project
  • Eugene P. Hough - Executive Director of Saving Hallowed Ground
  • And our own Joe Weishaar the winning designer for the National WWI Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington DC

The members of this amazing group have volunteered their precious time to help us review and evaluate the submissions and we thank them.

But most of all we need to give a huge shout out to the teams that have taken on these restoration and conservation projects.


These projects are a really big deal that require research, community interaction, permissions from cities and counties, plans, schedules, budgets, fund raising, partnerships - it’s a huge dedication from each submitting team.

The scope, the quality, variety, and most of all the deeply held commitment that these submitting teams have demonstrated is wonderful and honestly when you read them often quite humbling. We want to thank and congratulate every submitting team on the fantastic projects that they have presented us with.

We will be profiling the submitting teams and their projects on the show over the coming months - BUT you can learn more about the program right now - at ww1cc.org/100memorials or follow the link in the podcast notes.

Updates From The States


Maryland: Interview with David Craig

This week for our updates from the states - we are profiling Maryland. With us today is David Craig the Executive Director of the Maryland World War I Centennial Commission to talk to us about the Centennial commemoration in The Old Line State. home of Annapolis and the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay…

Welcome David!

[exchange greetings]

[David - you guys have been busy in Maryland with commemoration activities - Tell us about the commission and what you're up to!]

Thank you.

That was David Craig the Executive Director of the Maryland World War I Centennial Commission

Learn more at ww1cc.org/maryland all lower case or by following the links in the podcast notes.





Interview with Lora Vogt

There is a wonderful WW1 Arrival destination in Kansa City - It is the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial.

Joining us now is Laura Vogt - their Curator of Educations

Welcome Laura!

[Laura I have had the pleasure of being at the WW1 Museum and Memorial several times now and it is truly a special place - can you tell us a bit about it…]

[So Laura - as a national nexus for WW1 you have a lot of program including educational programs - tell us about that?]

Thank you Laura - That was Laura Vogt - the Curator of Education for the National WW1 Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. Their web site is full of great information and resources. Follow the link in the podcasts notes - and if you DO get to Kansas City - wipe that BBQ off your fingers - and face - and get over to the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial for an afternoon you won’t forget!




The Buzz - WW1 in Social Media Posts


That brings us to the buzz - the centennial of WW1 this week in social media with Katherine Akey - Katherine - what do you have for us this week?

Kodak and the Democratization of Photography in WW1

A new camera makes its way onto the battlefields in ww1


Thank you Katherine.

Shout Out

Just before we close we want to thank and congratulate the commission’s Summer of 2017 interns!

This year - 15 brilliant, dedicated college students joined us over the past weeks. Their work, commitment, quality, focus and dedication has made a real impact on us here at the US WW1 Centennial Commission and on the centennial commemoration in general.

We want to give a BIG shout out to:

  • Alyssa Carter from Lubbock Christian University
  • Matt Costas from Georgetown University
  • Samantha Marie Ensenat from Florida International University
  • Aaron Gladstone from University of Maryland, College Park
  • Shelbey Lisko from University of Central Arkansas
  • Drew Lorelli from Old Dominion University
  • Daniel MacManus from George Washington University
  • Nathalie Nguyen (Nat-a-lie New-When) from George Mason University
  • Josh Norton from Ulster University, Northern Ireland
  • Lorenzo Rodriguez  from Florida International University
  • Ben Sonnenberg from University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Michael Stahler from Temple University
  • Julia Suchanek from Lycoming College
  • Alice Valley from Quinnipiac University


  • Elliot Warren from George Washington University

We thank you - and you need to know that you made a real difference in commemorating the war that changed the world -

We hope your time with us has enriched your lives and your careers - From everyone at the commission a simple, heartfelt -  THANK YOU.


We had 16 interns! We inadvertently missed Paul Burgholzer from Catholic University


And that is WW1 Centennial News for this week.

We want to thank our guests:

  • Mike Shuster from the Great War Project blog and his post about Gas Warfare,
  • Richard Rubin and Jonathan Bratten and their StoryTeller and the Historian segment on building up and training the US Forces
  • Dr. Libby O’Connell, WW1 Centennial Commissioner and Historian speaking to us about food history
  • David Craig, Executive Director of the Maryland World War I Centennial Commission speaking with us about centennial commemorations in Maryland
  • Lora Vogt, Curator of education at the National WW1 Museum and Memorial and her insights into the museums programs and commemorative initiatives
  • Katherine Akey the Commission’s social media director and also the line producer for the show.

And I am Theo Mayer - your host.

The US World War One Centennial Commission was created by Congress to honor, commemorate and educate about WW1.

Our programs are to--

inspire a national conversation and awareness about WW1; This program is a part of that….

We are bringing the lessons of the 100 years ago into today's classrooms;

We are helping to restore WW1 memorials in communities of all sizes across our country;

and of course we are building America’s National WW1 Memorial in Washington DC.

If you like the work we are doing, please support it with a tax deductible donation at ww1cc.org/donate - all lower case

Or if you are on your smart phone text  the word: WW1 to 41444. that's the letters ww the number 1 texted to 41444. Any amount is appreciated.

We want to thank commission’s founding sponsor the Pritzker Military Museum and Library for their support.

The podcast can be found on our website at ww1cc.org/cn  

on  iTunes and google play ww1 Centennial News.

Our twitter and instagram handles are both @ww1cc and we are on facebook @ww1centennial.

Thanks for joining us. And don’t forget to share the stories you are hearing here with someone about the war that changed the world!


So long!


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