Heart of Louisiana: Memories of WWI

Updated: Jan. 19, 2016 at 8:42 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - You can see the history in almost-forgotten monuments around New Orleans. A neighborhood's tribute to its fighting men and women. The statue of a soldier with the nickname "Doughboy." A small monument to the first war fought on land, sea and air.

It was the Great War – WWI.

A victory arch was built in the Ninth Ward in 1919, just one year after the war ended. It cost $8,000 to build the granite monument, and the money came from a door-to-door campaign conducted here.

"It's actually the first permanent memorial to U.S. service people that goes up in the country," Eric Seiferth said.

Seiferth has curated an exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection that tells the story of WWI and its impact on the city. In it, you can read letters written by soldier Alfred Grima Jr. to his mother.

"He is with an artillery unit over in France and sees a number of the major offenses that the United States participates in," Seiferth said.

As the war nears its end, Grima wants no more of it. He writes, "I've lost all curiosity about wars and battle. I'm afraid I had a lot of it at first, but I've seen enough and more than enough of it."

During the first three years of fighting, the U.S. stayed neutral. And in a city of immigrants like New Orleans, there was support for both sides, the allies and the Germans. The German Society of New Orleans raised funds to support German widows and orphans.

"And they had auction items and they sold raffle tickets, and most of all, they showed German war films," said Daniel Hammer.

The German films, shown at a local theater, were popular.

"They had never seen film, newsreels of the war from the German news organizations," Hammer said.

The German organizations stopped their public activities once America declared war. New Orleanian Rudolph Weinman went to battle wearing a
uniform tailored at Godchaux's clothing store on Canal Street.

"And then he enlists in officer training school and becomes an officer, an artillery officer, and goes to France," Seiferth said.

Tulane grad Alvin Callendar joins the Canadian Royal Air Force and is credited with shooting down 14 German planes. But only a few weeks before the war ends, Callendar is killed.

"He gets shot and crash lands near allied lines," Seiferth said. "They find him, he never regains consciousness, he passes away."

This exhibit features firsthand accounts of battles, photos of public parks turned into military camps, parades to sell liberty bonds, and celebrations when the war ends. The fading memories of a horrible

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