In Conversation With… Chris Isleib of the United States World War One Centennial Commission

21 April 2017 | Pamela Linden

This month we spoke with Chris Isleib, Director of Public Affairs for the United States World War One Centennial Commission, about his organisation’s origins and upcoming plans.

Detail drawing from the new National World War I Memorial in Washington DC.

What are your organization’s plans for the centenary?

We have all kinds of amazing projects going on, and we are also helping organizations across the United States with their own local activities.

Our Commission was created by Congress to provide public awareness, education programs, and commemorative events regarding the American men & women who served in World War I. So, to that end, we have a wide spectrum of activities underway.

We built a network of 43 state-level Centennial Committees to tell the World War I stories with stronger local emphasis. We created educational lesson plans with the HISTORY Channel for high schools and middle school students. We just produced a huge national commemoration event last month at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City. We have social media campaigns on our FacebookInstagram and Twitter playing out every day.

US WWI Centennial Commission at at Capitol Hill WWI event produced with Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

US WWI Centennial Commission at at Capitol Hill WWI event produced with Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

We keep a calendar full of World War I-related events taking place nation-wide on our website. We are giving away money to groups who adopt & take care of World War I memorials in their area. We are helping book authors, filmmakers, performers, and visual artists to tell people about their creative projects related to World War I. This summer, we will roll out a new commemorative World War I coin that we developed with the U.S. Mint. The list goes on and on.


Finally, Congress authorized us to create the new National World War I Memorial in Washington DC, to honor the 4.7 million American men & women who served in uniform during the war. So we have conducted an open/international design competition, selected a winning design team, and have been working with various agencies in the nation’s capital to develop this new memorial.

What do you want people to know about the First World War, and why?

We have to know who we are, and where we come from.

World War I was truly the war that changed the world. Most of the things that we identify as being part of our modern life — telephones, automobiles, airplanes, advanced health care, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, modern artistic expression, modern democracy, diplomacy between nations — all stem directly from World War I. Further, our nation did not join this world-wide war to gain land, or to win treasure. Americans joined this awful fight for the sake of ideals. Democratic freedoms were being threatened on a global scale. We were not a perfect country, our own democracy was still very raw, but we could not stand idly by, and watch this threat happen.

Sculptor Sabin Howard working on drawings for the new National WWI Memorial. With kind permission, Centennial Commission.

Sculptor Sabin Howard working on drawings for the new National WWI Memorial. 

Americans today should know that their grandparents and great-grandparents bravely, humbly, helped change the world, and in a way, save the world. They made this enormous effort for us, for our sake — we are their ‘future generations’. And our ancestors did so with horrific human cost.

What does the First World War Centenary Partnership mean to you?

The overriding lesson from World War I is Peace. Peace between people, Peace between nations. Partnership with the First World War Centenary Partnership, and with other organizations around the world, helps promote this Peace, and helps foster understanding across boundaries, past barriers of language. Our organization is honored to stand beside the FWWCP and the other Partners, to remember these stories. With our voices joined, we can better tell the stories of World War I, and we can better learn its lessons of Peace.

What does the centenary mean to you?

Personally, I am a military veteran. I believe in service to our country, and I believe in defending justice. I served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Why did I join the Navy? In part, it was because my father served in the Navy. He was an officer in the U.S. Navy, during World War II. Why did my Dad join the Navy? In part, it was because his mentor, my Great Uncle Herman, served in the Navy. He was also an officer in the U.S. Navy, during World War I. It’s all connected. And why did Great Uncle Herman join the Navy? I do not know. But, the more that I learn about World War I — the time, the people, the clash of ideals — the closer I get to an answer.