College of Arts and Letters

Professor makes his mark on National WWI Memorial

by Ciara Brennan ('17)


SUMMARY: Professor Emeritus of English Mark Facknitz, who serves on the WWI Centennial Commission Historical Advisory Board, proposed two quotes that were chosen for inscription on the first National WWI Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington D.C.

On May 16th, the Commission of Fine Arts approved four quotations for inscription on the first National WWI Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington D.C. Of the four chosen, two were recommended by Professor Emeritus of English Dr. Mark Facknitz. 

Facknitz, whose research includes war, commemoration, memory, and the arts, serves on the Historical Advisory Board of the World War One Centennial Commission. According to the official website, the Centennial aims to educate, honor and commemorate America’s forgotten war.

In late July 2017, Vice Chair Edwin Fountain contacted the Advisory Board to request quotations worthy of inclusion on the memorial.

“I sent in about half a dozen passages, was thanked for them, and then I forgot about them until last week when I received the wonderful news that the fine arts committee had decided to use two of mine,” Facknitz says. 

One of the chosen quotes is several lines from Archibald MacLeish’s 1940 poem “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak.” The American writer and poet served first as an Army ambulance driver and later as a captain of artillery.

"They say, We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.

We were young, they say.  We have died.  Remember us." - Archibald MacLeish

Willa Cather's cousin G. P. Cather is #4. From Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt's memoir of the war, "Average Americans."

The other quote is a line from prominent American frontier writer Willa Cather’s 1922 novel “One of Ours.” According to Facknitz, who has in recent years divided his research interests between the Great War and Willa Cather, the main character in the novel is based on Cather’s cousinthe first officer from Nebraska to die in WWI.

"They were mortal, but they were unconquerable." - Willa Cather

Facknitz says, “Both [quotes] are about the real cost, the loss of life, or lives cut short, and both hand the responsibility of commemorationand continuityover to the living.”

The other quotations chosen were by President Woodrow Wilson and an American nurse. “Taken together, the four quotations will resonate well with each other,” says Facknitz, “And, I am really impressed that here’s a war memorial and of all the quotations that will embellish it, half are from women. That’s not your grandfather’s war memorial, so to speak.”

Approximately two-thirds of the necessary funds have been raised for the memorial. Construction is projected to begin this year and finish by the end of 2020. When it is complete, visitors will have a chance to do what MacLeish’s poem commands: “Remember us.”

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Published: Monday, May 27, 2019

Last Updated: Saturday, January 2, 2021

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