To mark the April 17 public opening of the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., the World War I Centennial Commission will host First Colors, a 90-minute virtual broadcast, free to the public online. The inaugural flag raising at the Memorial site and virtual program, will take place on Friday, April 16, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. EDT/ 7:00 a.m. PDT. The emotionally powerful, live-broadcast program, hosted by actor Gary Sinise, will commemorate those who served in the trenches and on the home front, celebrating a nation forever changed by the sacrifices they made and the ideals they bequeathed.
The ceremony will feature remarks from present and past military officials and government leaders, including Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), as well as entertainment celebrity appearances.
The event will also include a performance of “God Bless the U.S.A” by Lee Greenwood, featuring acapella group Home Free and members of the United States Air Force Band, as well as highlights from the film “A Soldier’s Journey” which tells the story of the design and importance of the World War I Memorial, featuring Memorial lead designer Joe Weishaar and sculptor Sabin Howard. Additionally, invoking the symbolism of World War I, First Colors will include:
- Music from the United States Army Band Pershing’s Own. The bugler will use the bugle owned by Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I.
- Performance by the 396th Regiment “Hellfighters Band,” the all-Black band in World War l’s segregated Army that helped bring jazz to Europe.
- A song from the musical “Hello Girls, The Musical” that portrays the first women to actively serve in the Army as heroic World War l telephone operators.
“As our nation’s flag is raised for the first time over this hallowed ground that honors those who served in the Great War, we can take pride in the legacy of service and sacrifice by those who wear the uniform of our great country,” said Terry Hamby, chairman of the World War I Centennial Commission. “We invite Americans across the country to view this momentous occasion and reflect on this significant generation’s place in our country’s history.”
After the inaugural flag to be raised at the Memorial flew over the U.S. Capitol, where it signaled our nation’s commitment to fight, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) then flew the flag at nine final resting places, World War I cemeteries in France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. Those sites include Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery, where brave American aviators who volunteered even before America declared war, are buried and Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, on the legendary battlefield of Belleau Wood, site of one of the hardest-fought American victories in the war. Finally, representing the coming home of nearly 2 million soldiers who returned from Europe, the flag returned to the United States to fly at the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.
The live flag-raising ceremony will include a flyover by the 94th Fighter Squadron, formerly the 94th Aero Squadron, which began its prestigious history as the most victorious air warfare unit of World War I on March 6, 1918. As the first American-trained pursuit squadron to reach the front and see combat service, the pilots of the 94th developed an insignia to commemorate their being the first to “throw their hat in the ring” and painted Uncle Sam’s Hat inside of a red ring on the side of their Nieuport 28 planes before their first flight. The squadron included Ace pilots James Meissner and Douglas Campbell and Medal of Honor recipient Eddie Rickenbacker, also known as the “Hat in the Ring Gang.”
“The men and women of the 94th Fighter Squadron, known as the “Spads” and the “Hat in the Ring Gang,” are incredibly honored to be able to participate in the First Colors Ceremony at the new National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C.,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Johnathan Kuntz, 94th Fighter Squadron commander. “As proud as we are of the 94th Aero Squadron, we know their contributions were just a small part of the overall American and Allied war effort, both on the front lines and at home. We will never forget their sacrifice, and we remain forever grateful for it.”
First Colors is presented by the World War l Centennial Commission in cooperation with the Doughboy Foundation, the National Park Service, and the American Battle Monuments Commission. For more information and to watch the broadcast, visit www.ww1cc.org/firstcolors. First Colors is not an in-person event.