A Soldier's Journey

Drawing of sculpture at World War I Memorial

World War I Centennial Commission

Memorial architect Joe Weishaar calls Sabin Howard’s A Soldier’s Journey sculpture “The Everyman.” Thirty-eight separate figures, spread over approximately 58 feet of wall towards the western end of the Memorial Core, portray the experience of one American soldier. Starting from the left, the soldier takes leave from his wife and daughter, charges into combat, sees men around him killed, wounded, and gassed, and recovers from the shock to come home to his family. The figures are mounted on the wall.

In the departure, the soldier’s daughter hand him his helmet, while his wife touches him with a restraining arm, as if to hold him back as he answers the call to battle – representing the debate over American involvement in the war. In the initiation, the soler joins the parade to war, as the United States joins the epic battle in Europe.

The parade, and the work as a whole, includes African Americans and other ethnic groups who answered their country’s call.

In the middle scene, the ordeal, the parade devolves into the tension before the charge and then the tumult of desperate and violent combat. At the center our hero calls his comrades into battle, illustrating the famous American battle cry from Belleau Wood: “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

The aftermath depicts the physical and mental wounds of the fighters. Here are represented American women who served at home and on the fighting front. And here the turbulent, left-to-right narrative pauses, as the hero stops and looks directly at the viewer. The soldier’s look of shock and loss – the thousand-year stare – along with the empty helmets piled at his feet, invite the viewer to stop and contemplate with him the costs of war.

In the return, the soldier rejoins the homecoming parade. One figure look back with pride, while a flag bearer leads the country forward into “the American century.” Our soldier returns home and hands his helmet back to his daughter. She looks into the helmet and sees World War II, the war that will bring America back to Europe little more than 20 years later.

Due to the size and complexity of the casting process, the sculpture will not be installed before 2024. Until then, artwork showing what the final product will look like will be in its place. The wall is surrounded by water and is viewed from a platform several feet in front of it.

Last updated: April 16, 2021

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