UNG Leading Efforts of World War I Centennial Commission

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

The Georgia World War I Centennial Commission has been busy preparing to mark a century since the war's end.

Dr. Billy Wells, senior vice president for leadership and global engagement at the University of North Georgia (UNG), serves as the commission chairman.

Retired Lt. Col. Keith Antonia, UNG's associate vice president for military programs, is a commission associate.

Wells, a retired Army colonel, will be the keynote speaker on the war's impact at an 11 a.m. Nov. 11 event at the Atlanta History Center to mark Armistice Day. He plans to talk about the cost of the war, the dramatic changes it brought to American society, its impact on future military affairs, the changes it led to in America's foreign relations and policy, and the hard lessons the U.S. and Europe learned on how to end a conflict.

The Georgia group is joining the national World War I Centennial Commission to encourage Americans to ring bells 21 times at five-second intervals at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 to mark 100 years since the war's end. UNG's Price Memorial Hall bell on the Dahlonega Campus will ring 21 times at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 before reverting back to its normal hourly tolling schedule. Gov. Nathan Deal plans to sign a proclamation for the Bells of Peace ringing. Anyone who wants to be part of the commemoration wherever they are can download the Bells of Peace app.

Dr. Virginia Dilkes has served on the advisory board for the state World War I Centennial Commission and as a volunteer for the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. On Nov. 11, Dilkes will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on the grave of four-star Gen. Courtney Hodges, a UNG alumnus who earned the Distinguished Service Cross during the war.

A major commission effort involved updating the record of soldiers killed in the war to include African-Americans who were previously not listed in the Georgia State Memorial Book. Now, 1,228 blacks are listed.

Wells said former state librarian Dr. Lamar Veatch's "tireless work researching Georgia WWI memorials as well as poorly documented African-American casualties corrected a major gap in Georgia history, leaving a significant archival legacy for the state."

With support from the UNG Foundation, the group has raised money for a statue honoring Eugene Bullard, the first African-American fighter pilot, who flew for the French in World War I. The statue will be placed at the Museum of Aviation next to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.

The commission has also planted red poppies along U.S. 78 in Walton County to honor Moina Michael, who developed the idea of using red poppies to support veterans of World War I, and ultimately of all wars.

The University of Georgia's Dr. Thomas H. Jackson Jr., executive director of the commission, praised Wells' work with the group.

"He's singularly knowledgeable and qualified about military history," Jackson said. "And it's been great working with him on this important project."

Wells was grateful to contribute.

"Being the elected chair has been both an honor and a challenge," Wells said. "I attribute the success of this endeavor to all the other commissioners, as well as Dr. Tom Jackson, our executive director along with our 'ad hoc' staff and volunteers."