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From the World War I Centennial News Podcast

Updates from the States: Georgia
An Interview with Dr. Tom Jackson

ww1 Centennial News Podcast LogoIn October 5th's WW1 Centennial News Podcast, Episode 92, host Theo Mayer spoke with Dr. Tom Jackson, Executive Director of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission and retired Vice President for Public Affairs at the University of Georgia. In the interview, Dr. Jackson answered questions about Georgia's role in the war and the ongoing efforts to honor and commemorate Georgians who served. The following is a transcript:


Theo Mayer: This week in our Updates From The States we're heading to the state that was home to two US presidents directly involved in World War I: the State of Georgia. Woodrow Wilson's boyhood home was in Augusta and the era's Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future President Franklin D. Roosevelt built his famous "Little White House" at Warm Springs, Georgia. In 1945, it's also where he died. To learn more about Georgia and World War I, we're joined by Dr. Tom Jackson. Tom, it's wonderful to have you on the show.
Dr. Tom Jackson: Hello, Theo. Thank you for the opportunity.

Theo Mayer: Tom, Georgia was an early entrant into the State World War I Commemoration. Could you tell our audience a little bit about how Georgia and the Georgia Commission got started in all these?
Dr. Tom Jackson: Well, Theo, we had a prime mover in the form of Dr. Monique Seefried, who's one of your National Centennial Commission commissioners. Dr. Seefried influenced the governor of Georgia, who is our neighbor, and the Georgia legislature to adopt and create and a Georgia World War I Centennial Commission in its 2015 session. Two commissioners appointed by the governor, two by the lieutenant governor, and two by the speaker of the house gathered in late 2015, and we have been on board ever since.Ft Benning Fort Benning, a major Army base in use since 1918, is an "enduring legacy of World War 1 in Georgia" according to Dr. Jackson

Theo Mayer: A story I didn't know. Your team has done a stellar job in uncovering and telling the story of Georgia in World War I. Could you tell us a bit about Georgia during 1916 through '19?
Dr. Tom Jackson: Georgians shared America's isolationist attitude at that time and the state had a particular economic pinch as exports of cotton, tobacco, timber and naval stores to the markets in Germany, and Austria-Hungary were stopped by the British naval blockade of Europe. When US entry into the war came in April of 1917, patriotic fervor swept Georgia. Ultimately, more than a half million men were registered for the draft in Georgia. More than 100,000 men and women served in military or support roles. Many of the Americans who fought in the European theater, as many as half went who overseas, came from Georgia camps. These included places like Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Fort Oglethorpe near Chattanooga in Georgia, and Fort Screven in Tybee Island. There were war training camps. Camp Gordon in Chamblee, Camp Hancock in Augusta, Camp Wheeler in Macon among others. Flight school at Souther Field in Americus trained almost 2000 military pilots for combat over France. Charles Lindbergh took his first flight at Souther Field.

Near war's end, Columbus was chosen to house the Army's School of Arms leading to construction of Fort Benning, today the nation's leading center for infantry training and ground maneuvers. Of course, infantry and armor make up the Fort Benning Maneuver Center as an enduring legacy of World War I in Georgia. It's particular difficult to determine precisely how many Georgians died in World War I. Unfortunately, the memorial records of today list only the white soldiers. The primary effort of our commission here in Georgia has been to identify all Georgians who died in service during the war and it revealed a large number of black soldiers. The latest count is 1228 who made the ultimate sacrifice. It brings the total number of Georgians who died in uniform to 3700, and we hope to honor them all in this centennial observance.

Theo Mayer: Well, Tom, members of your commission literally went from county courthouse to county courthouse re-recording the names on the local memorials to help build that list, didn't they?
Dr. Tom Jackson: They did. In particular, Dr. Lamar Veach, who's the retied state librarian has been our prime mover in that. He's been all over Georgia. There are 159 counties. I think he's been in every one. The listeners can go to our website and see this photographic database of all of these monuments. They're quite colorful. They're quite varied. It's an interesting tour through the state and through the way that local people were commemorating the war at the time.

Theo Mayer: What do you think is the most important thing that resulted from your team and your commission's efforts?
Dr. Tom Jackson: I would say the most important thing is that commemoration on the African-American service in the war. The identification of 1228 people who have not previously properly been memorialized. We've had many other things that we've done. We had a grant through the Georgia Department of Education to support development of World War I curriculum to be integrated into history courses in 5th, 6th, and 8th grade, and in high school because, as you might suspect, World War I, sometimes, gets short changed in the history courses. We had a statewide History Day Program in conjunction with the Georgia Humanities Council that awarded two top winners in WW1 themed projects with trips to Washington DC for this November's events and this summer, one went to France for centennial events there- the grand prize. The website is a legacy of the Commission in its own right with the memorial sites around the state and a history and updated listing of all Georgians who died. The names are there by county. They can be searched. We had exhibits at many places around the state, the Atlanta History Center, the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. museum of aviation robins air force baseThe Museum of Aviation, where the Georgia Commission hopes to build a statue honoring African-American pilot Eugene BullardWe erected a State Historical Marker commemorating the tragic lost of Georgian's lives and the wreck of the troop ship Otranto off Ireland right before the end of the war, the worst troop ship disaster during the war. We're erecting a sculpture of the first African-American military aviator, a Georgia native, Eugene Bullard, a native of Columbus, Georgia. This will be located at the US Air Force Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins if all the technical aspects can be worked out with that. Bullard was never allowed to fly for the US. He had to fly for France because he was an African-American. We worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation to plant memorial poppies along the Moina Michael Highway, which is the highway between Atlanta and Athens in honor of Ms. Michael's whirlwind development of the buddy poppies to support veterans. She was a faculty member at the University of Georgia and the prime mover behind the idea of the buddy poppy. We helped encourage and promote local centennial events all around the state. Our thanks to museums and local communities who have done lectures, and performances, and seminars throughout the past four years.

Theo Mayer: You've really had an amazing program. What are the plans for the Armistice? Also, the other question I wanted to ask you is, what happens after the Armistice?
Dr. Tom Jackson: We have a large program, a formal state observance planned for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month coming up on Sunday, November 11th, at the Atlanta History Center. It will be the state observance. It will open with patriotic music, followed by participation in the Bells of Peace, ringing precisely at 11:00, and then some appropriate remarks. Actually, the way the legislation was set up, we got off to such an early start and perhaps an early end as well: we expire July of 2019. Our main remaining project is to complete the statue of aviator Eugene Bullard, and to have it erected and dedicated. We would hope to do that during Black History Month this coming February. If not, certainly before July.
Theo Mayer: Dr. Tom Jackson, Executive Director of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission. Learn more about the commission and the Centennial of World War I in Georgia by visiting the link below.