Friday, January 13, 2017

WWI Centennial & Museum of Flight

100 Years Ago Wilson led America into WWI
1917 - 2017

2017 marks one hundred years since the start of American involvement in World War I.  In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson led America into the First World War on the side of the Allies versus the Central Powers.  Germany's policy of Unrestricted Submarine warfare was deeply unsettling for Americans.  Over a hundred Americans were, for example, killed in May of 1915 with the sinking of the Lusitania.  Thomas Tileston Wells, my great-grandfather had been a passenger on board the Lusitania in 1909 (  The disclosure of the Zimmerman telegram, a German plot to bring Mexico into the war on the side of the Central Powers if America joined the war, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

US Army Poster WWI
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
From 1917 to 1918 over two million American member of the American Expeditionary force were shipped "Over There" to join in the fighting on the Western Front.  They were called "Doughboys" because they tended to be bigger and taller than the British and French soldiers.  Many fought in the trenches.  Some took to the skies and fought in the air.  Eddie Rickenbacker became the greatest American Ace of World War I.  He flew in a French-built Spad XIII as the Americans had no aircraft industry at the start of the Great War.

My own great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, was traveling in Europe with his family in the summer of 1914 at the start of World War I.  At Riva on Lake Garda he was arrested briefly by Austrian authorities, accused of being a Russian spy and threatened with immediate execution.  You can learn about how he managed to talk his way out of that in my newly published book -- An Adventure in 1914

Eyewitness Account of
History's Greatest Train Wreck

Over 17 million people were killed in the course of World War I including over 117,000 Americans.    In the epilogue to An Adventure in 1914 I noted, "The First World War was the costliest in Western history up to that point (exceeded perhaps only by the Taiping Rebellion in China, which may have cost twenty to thirty million deaths from 1850–1864). It was the original catastrophe of the twentieth century that sowed the seeds for future tragedies. The war shattered the stability of much of the world and destroyed four empires: Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia would have bloody consequences for the remainder of the twentieth century. The bitter peace of Versailles would lay the groundwork for World War II. France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch proved to be a modern Cassandra when he declared, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."  (See...
German Albatros D.Va
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA

A visit to the Museum of Flight in Seattle ( is an excellent way to remember the centennial of American involvement in World War I.  The aviation from the Great War can be found in the J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing of the Museum.  They have an outstanding collection of World War airplanes from all of the principle nations involved in the war.

French Nieuport 24bis
Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
There are many interactive and audiovisual elements at the World War I exhibit at the Museum of Flight.  One of my favorites involves a story about a German bomber that flew over Paris in the war and dropped a hand grenade onto the Champs-Élysées causing some consternation.  The German bomber returned again to the skies over Paris and dropped a rock over the famous boulevard.  The note said, "Surrender or we will drop another one!"  The Germans DO have a sense of humor!

You can get your signed copy of 
An Adventure in 1914

Or you can get regular copies on

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