US Army and Navy forces returning to New York after the war in 1918 were officially received at Madison Square, a park bound by 23rd St, 26th St, Fifth Ave and Madison Ave in the Flatiron area of Manhattan. They marched through a temporary Victory Arch of wood and plaster, modeled after the Arch of Constantine in Rome, at 24th St and Fifth Avenue. There was no agreement amongst city leaders on the design of a more permanent arch and the temporary one was soon razed.
In its place, the Eternal Light Memorial Flagstaff was dedicated “to our heroes” on Armistice Day, 11 Nov 1923.
An ornamental pedestal of Milford pink granite is inscribed with tributes:
- On the front (east) side, “an eternal light, an inspiration and a promise of enduring peace”
- On the north side, “in memory of those who have made the supreme sacrifice for the triumph of the free peoples of the world”
- On the west side, “’tis the star spangled banner, oh long may it wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”
- On the south side, “erected to commemorate the first homecoming of the victorious army and navy of these United States, officially received by the City of New York on this site, Anno domini MCMXVIII”
- On the plinth, names of significant battle sites – Cambrai, Aisne-Marne, Montdidier-Noyon, Somme Defensive, Ypres-Lys, Somme Offensive, Vittorio-Veneto, Champagne-Marne, Meune-Argonne, Oise-Aisne, St- Mihiel.
The monument was designed by architect Thomas Hastings. The decorative bronze cap at the base of the flagstaff was sculpted by Paul Wayland Bartlett. The 30-foot flagstaff is topped by a star-shaped luminaire, intended to be lit as an eternal tribute to those who paid the supreme sacrifice. The annual Veterans Day parade begins here.
Even though the US did not enter WW1 until 1917, all New York City boroughs have a wealth of WW1 monuments – perhaps because the city was a major port for the Allies throughout the war. The NYC Parks and Recreation Department documents those under its watch. You can find an overview here, then search the site for “World War I”.
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