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‘We must never forget’ lessons of WWI


Leon Panetta, Special for USA TODAY

10:00 p.m. ET April 5, 2017

One hundred years ago, 4.7 million patriotic Americans answered President Woodrow Wilson’s call and put on a uniform to help “make the world safe for democracy.” They joined the fight with our allies Belgium, Great Britain and France to defeat the German-led Central Powers.

These Americans came from all walks of life: college students, lawyers, farmers and sharecroppers. They all served: whites, African Americans, Native Americans and recent immigrants from across the globe.

Wilson made his case for war in front of Congress on April 2, 1917. Unrestricted submarine attacks against American merchant ships and Germany’s attempt to entice Mexico in a war against the United States, as outlined in the so-called Zimmerman telegram, were the primary reasons for U.S. entry into a conflict that was already more than 21/2 years old. The House and Senate agreed with Wilson, and four days later the country declared war on Germany.

America’s mobilization was impressive, even by 21st-century standards. Camps sprung up to train professional soldiers, National Guard troops and draftees in the latest tools of war: airplanes, artillery, machine-guns, poison gas and tanks.

More than 2 million “doughboys,” as the troops were called, deployed overseas in 1917-18, where they were ably led by Gen. John J. Pershing. These untested warriors soon proved themselves in the pitched, grinding battles at Cantigny, Belleau Wood and Château-Thierry and the 47-day long Meuse-Argonne offensive that…

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