Meuse-Argonne Cemetery
(photo: Wiki­media Commons)

An ocean away, amidst the peace and beauty of the French coun­tryside, a memorial stands adorned with the statue of an American soldier. Harriet Beale com­mis­sioned this memorial as a tribute to her son, First Lieu­tenant Walker Beale, who was killed in action on 18 Sept. 1918, at 22-years-old. A simple, mournful inscription is written above the statue’s head: “He sleeps, far from his family, in the sweet soil of France.”

Mon­u­ments such as this one adorn American World War I bat­tle­fields and ceme­teries all across north­eastern France. Mil­lions of young American men fought in World War I, and over 100,000 died in it. Yet vis­i­tation to the places where they vio­lently struggled and now peace­fully rest is often eclipsed by more recent and more famous pil­grimage sites such as Nor­mandy.

In large part, this results from the post-1918 col­lective national dis­il­lu­sionment with American involvement in a war that was sup­posed to, as Woodrow Wilson naively put it, “make the world safe for democracy.” In World War II, by con­trast, America accom­plished nearly every­thing it had set out to do after Pearl Harbor, and far more American men and American deaths were involved in the effort.

The final result is that Amer­icans today are far more likely to know rel­a­tives who fought in “the Good War” than in “the Great War”, and far more likely to rec­ognize names like Omaha Beach, Ste. Mere Eglise, and Bas­togne than names like Château-Thierry, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne.

As we approach the cen­tenary of Armistice Day, it is important that Amer­icans today remember the ultimate sac­rifice made by so many Amer­icans 100 years ago. Many of those sol­diers, pop­u­larly known as “doughboys,” now lie in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, the largest American war cemetery in Europe. With 14,246 men resting there, the cemetery serves as a peaceful and fitting memorial to the men who attacked well-pro­tected and in-depth German trench systems during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Fought from Sept. 26 to Nov. 11, 1918, the Offensive remains the bloodiest battle in American history, with over 26,000 dead and another 96,000 wounded. It was the American Expe­di­tionary Force’s largest battle and played a critical role in the final Allied push to break through the infamous Hin­denburg Line and force Germany’s capit­u­lation.

Today, trag­i­cally large number of crosses and Stars of David beautify pas­tures once dis­figured by shell holes and machine gun nests. Yet, for all the Meuse-Argonne’s impor­tance to the ending of World War I, the cemetery has never once been visited by a sitting American pres­ident.

Pres­ident Bill Clinton came the closest in 1998, when the White House announced plans for him to visit the cemetery on the 80th anniversary of the battle’s beginning. Unfor­tu­nately, by Sep­tember, scandal pre­oc­cupied Clinton and the Sec­retary of Vet­erans Affairs was sent in his place. Since then, no admin­is­tration has announced any intention of adding the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery to the pres­i­dential itin­erary.

However, this year finally presents the perfect chance to afford these American heroes the recog­nition they deserve. The Trump admin­is­tration should make plans to visit the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery this autumn to com­mem­orate the cen­tenary of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the end of the War. Such a trip would have the potential to bring Amer­icans together in remem­brance of the fallen and reignite national interest in our involvement in World War I, much as Reagan’s Pointe Du Hoc speech did for World War II. The Pres­ident should not pass up this oppor­tunity to honor World War I vet­erans and give the nation the uni­fying, patriotic moment it so sorely needs.

Joshua Waechter is a sophomore studying history.