On the last Monday of the month of May each year, we acknowledge the sacrifices made by those who fought and died in conflicts involving the United States. This year we also commemorate the end of World War I (Nov. 11, 1918) – a war that saw 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians perish. Over 116,000 Americans were killed in the war - 3,700 from Virginia. Here in Roanoke we have recognized those killed in the War through memorials including Memorial Bridge, the Roanoke Valley War Memorial located downtown, and Argonne Circle in the Old Southwest neighborhood.
The largest of these, Memorial Bridge was constructed in 1926 and contains several plaques including one dedicated to those killed in World War I, which in part reads, “In gratitude In loving remembrance this memorial bridge dedicated to the sons and daughters of Roanoke who joined the forces of their country In the great world war and went forth bravely in the service of the nation and of all mankind.”
Image: Cyclist on Roanoke's Memorial Bridge. View archived images of the dedication ceremony in 1926 on the Virginia Room's website.
Roanoke in the War
Only two days after the United States entered the war in Europe, Roanoke soldiers were on a train headed for training in preparation for combat. By the end of that year, these same soldiers were parts of units sent to France. Near the end of 1917, more than 2,500 Roanoke men had registered in the draft, including 450 African-Americans who were segregated into separate units. By the end of 1918, many of these soldiers were engaged in combat in France.
In Roanoke, local women opened a war center of the American Red Cross, the first in Virginia, where they focused on securing hospital supplies and operating a canteen near the grounds of Hotel Roanoke, which cared for more than 200,000 service members passing through Roanoke.
Let Us Not Forget
Since as far back as the late 1800’s, one day each year has been set aside to commemorate those who lost their lives in wars and conflicts. In most communities this day is recognized with parades, speeches, and flowers placed at memorials and gravesides. Roanoke will acknowledge this day with a presentation by the Mayor and others at the Roanoke Valley War Memorial on May 28 at 10 a.m.
Unfortunately, all too often and perhaps increasingly so, this day represents little more than a day that furniture is placed on sale, that swimming pools open, and when summer vacation “officially” begins. Let us not forget that nearly 800 residents of Roanoke Valley lost their lives in service of the Country in conflicts since the Civil War and, of course, others continue to place their lives at risk in conflicts the United States remains involved in throughout the World. Let us not forget that each of these individuals is someone who will never come home – a father, a son, a brother, a husband, a daughter, or a friend who will never walk upon the streets of Roanoke again. Let us not forget this sacrifice was made on our behalf and take the opportunity to spend a few moments this Memorial Day to acknowledge it.
- Bob Cowell