Making Their Mark: World War I Memorial and Commemoration Formation by Veterans in Johnson City, TN, 1922-1935
Ailstock, Mason Blevins
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Soldiers and civilians alike sought to make sense of the war following the silencing of the guns with the signing of the armistice in 1918. One of the foremost veteran groups leading this effort was the American Legion, founded in 1919. This World War I veteran organization would provide an outlet for Great War veterans to share camaraderie, interact with their local communities, and ultimately pay homage to their fallen brothers in arms. In line with the national organization's agenda and programs, the American Legion Kings Mountain Post No. 24 in Johnson City, TN executed two very different versions of WWI memorialization, one built in 1922 and another in 1935. These two memorials served the community in vastly different ways throughout the 1900s. The first was a commemorative marker and the second was a community centerpiece. In this paper, I argue that the differences between two World War I memorials in Johnson City are demonstrative of how the community progressively oriented its identity and infrastructures around Great War veterans following the conflict. Johnson City's physical and memorial landscapes changed as the city sought to reconcile the war and its survivors. Each memorial served veterans and the larger community in ways that aligned with both the veterans' needs and larger social contexts of Johnson City at the times of their creations. Ultimately, the memorials were intended to serve very different purposes within the community. Both veterans and nonveterans in the community responded more favorably to the 1935 Johnson City WWI memorial initially, and then continued to utilize it much more frequently throughout the twentieth century. It was a memorial that was intended to be interacted with regularly. The second memorial's central role in the community was cemented by how the memorial's placement and style differed from its predecessor. The second memorial was more accessible to the public, partnered with a more prominent municipal facility, had an expanded scope, and utilized nationalistic iconography. These key differences are a result of the community's increased dedication to Great War veterans by 1935. As care for World War I veterans became a central component of the city, so did memorializing the conflict.
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