The names of 26 Doughboys who died fighting in WWI are carved in a granite and bronze memorial that stands on the Old Manassas Courthouse lawn. Several people gathered at the courthouse on Monday, July 28, 2014, to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of the Great War and to pay tribute to those men from Prince William County and Manassas.
As Prince William County Supervisor John D. Jenkins read the names of the soldiers, people holding red carnations stepped forward one-by-one to place the flowers at the foot of the monument.
The laying of the flowers, the placing of a wreath, the observation of a moment of silence and the playing of Taps ended the ceremony that began inside the courthouse where Prince William Supervisor Wally Covington III read from a resolution recently passed by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “Whereas Prince William County and the City of Manassas have joined together on Monday, July 28, 2014, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War and to honor the 26 Prince William soldiers whose names are listed on the granite memorial on the courthouse lawn. Now, therefore be it resolved, that the Prince William Board of County Supervisors does hereby recognize and commend the ultimate sacrifice of these 26 men from our community who honorably and dutifully answered our nation’s call in support of the Great War.”
James Price, of the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division, spoke at the ceremony. Rather than reciting a history of the war, Price offered quotes found in newspapers and books and read the entirety of a letter written to the family of Hugh Coram (29th Infantry Division), who died in the Great War. He said the letter and quotes offered vignettes into how the war affected people.
Coram’s commanding officer wrote to his family saying, “Hugh was a man who everyone liked and who, to me, was a brother. I have been with this company for three months, and in that time I took a great interest in Hugh. He was one in whom I could place confidence, to whom I could give an order and know that it would be carried out. He was very quiet and reserved. When others were out from their billets, not always in the most desirable places, I knew where Hugh was and could get him when I wished to see him. He has often spoken to me of his home life, of his sisters and his brothers, and I know he loved his home, and it was in defense of his home that he gave his life. Hugh had no bad habits, and his speech and mind were free from the taints which so many of us have; and I only hope all of us may live as Hugh did, and in the end, we may meet in a land where parting and sorrow are not known.”
Carrington Bailey, of Nokesville, died in the war and his father was quoted saying, “He was my oldest son and my best boy. He was 22 years old on the 1st day of September, and he never gave his mother or me a cross word in his life.”
Price told the audience that while newspapers initially wrote of American travelers being inconvenienced by the war, it hit home when it sparked a worldwide Spanish Flu epidemic that killed 675,000 Americans. Later, the United States Army staged its biggest battle in history at Meuse-Argonne, France, where 26,000 were killed 100,000 wounded. Two million Americans served in WWI and 116,000 died.
At the end of the war, Prince William County resident Marion Lewis was quoted saying, “Everybody celebrated everywhere. You never saw such carrying-on. I remember I was down in the lower part of the county and a group of about 20 of us walked miles that night just yelling and screaming and going something crazy. Everyone was just so happy that it was all over.”
Price said people tend to forget about WWI. “We like to focus on our Civil War history a lot, but there’s a monument right outside the Old Courthouse that lists the names of 26 individuals from Prince William County and Manassas that gave their lives during the First World War. We think of the First World War as a speed bump on the way to the Second World War. You have very popular movies about the Second World War, popular mini-series. There’s nothing like that for the First World War; it’s kind of a vacuum in our history.”
Price said the Historic Preservation Division will partner with the Manassas Museum to try and highlight the events of WWI over the next three years. He said the division and the museum are looking for artifacts people may have or stories that need telling. “Hopefully, word will spread throughout the community, and we’ll start getting leads if there’s anybody who has some stuff they’d be willing to loan us for our exhibit.”
Mary Helen Dellinger, the Manassas Museum curator, also spoke at the ceremony and said the lives of the soldiers from Prince William County must be remarked upon during the centennial. “We come here tonight to remember those men from Prince William County who served in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. One thing that sustained those soldiers in battle was the knowledge that those who followed would not forget what they had done.”
Lillian Orlich, a former history teacher who is now a counselor at Osbourn Park High School, attended the ceremony. “I’ve always loved history and this is part of our community.”
Robert Simpson, the commander of American Legion Post 130 out of Falls Church, came with the post honor guard to participate in the ceremony and said remembering WWI was as important as remembering other wars. “It’s part of our heritage as far as the military is concerned. We feel that remembering our great wars and what they were all about is why we defend our country. I think it’s very important that we don’t let this legacy go.”
The names of 26 Doughboys who died fighting in WWI