California Bogs Down WWI Centennial in its Political Quagmire

Blogger’s Note: California Government apathy continues to overwhelm the enthusiasm of the California State Military Reserve’s Military History Volunteers. I documented the state government’s hostile takeover of the California Military History Museum in my series of posts titled: “Fight at the Museum.”  

In this post, I share the devastating costs of the Government takeover of the California State Military Museum and illustrate that loss to California Taxpayers, the history community, and the United States Army’s Center for Military History on the West Coast. I would encourage any readers to direct their concerns to:

  • Your state Assemblyman and Senator asking them to reconcile state laws governing the museum with federal laws; 
  • Contacting state Military Associations such as the National Guard Association of California (NGAC), the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), or any military and/or law enforcement group requesting they spearhead efforts to restore the California State Military History Foundation; or
  • Visit the California Military History Foundation to volunteer your talents, time, ideas, professional expertise, and/or financial support to help restore this proven private-public partnership management of the museum.

Perhaps the following article will assist in articulating the urgency of reopening the California Military History Museum in Old Sacramento.


The WWI Centennial Commission's "Weight of Sacrifices" memorial in Washington DC, is marching by the California Military History Museum in Old Sac. (WWI Centennial Commission photo)
The WWI Centennial Commission’s “Weight of Sacrifices” memorial in Washington DC, is marching by the California Military History Museum in Old Sac. (WWI Centennial Commission photo)

ALBANY, CA, Feb. 13, 2016–While California’s WWI Centennial Association sells trinkets here to help build the National “Weight of Sacrifices” Memorial in Washington DC, their State Military Department is weighing down their efforts by dismantling their legislatively-mandated Military History Museum.

Nearly 100 Bay Area and Sacramento WWI Centennial Association members crowded into a small ballroom here Saturday to purchase T-Shirts, hats, and other WWI paraphernalia to support the Weight of Sacrifices Memorial and pay homage to an improbable WWI Ace.

The lecture occurred just days before the World War I Centennial Commission announced the winner of its design competition for the National WWI Memorial at Pershing Park Washington DC. Architect Joseph Weishaar and Sculptor Sabin Howard were selected for their “Weight of Sacrifices” theme. The design is rich with allegories, symbolisms, and emblems “capturing the glorification of humanity and enduring spirit over the glorification of war.”

The memorial covers 116,516 cubic feet (one for every American soldier lost in WWI), and includes two 137-foot walls along its North and South faces to commemorate words and wisdom of a generation gone by. It will have “the raised form” in its center with personal narratives honoring veterans of the First World War.

Meanwhile, back in Albany, CA, Community College Professor Joseph G. Gonzalez made WWI Ace Capt. John E. Dole’s narrative come alive with the colorful tales of his maverick-career. Gonzalez entertained history enthusiasts with the fluke of Doyle stumbling into combat aviation, despite no formal training, staggering into the British Royal Air (RAF), skillfully shining as an ace, shooting down two German Albatross D VIIs–a German prototype single-seat fighter bi-plane–before spiraling into a nosedive and crashing into the French Countryside on Sept. 5, 1918.

Gonzalez animated the audience with colorful antidotes of Doyle’s capture, including an unbelievable rescue from execution. Gonzalez shared a tale from his unauthorized biography of Doyle, of how a herd of French women fed and cared for the injured pilot and then beat off his executioner. Charmed by Doyle’s boyish good looks, the swooning women convinced the Germans that Doyle was just too handsome to kill. Overtaken by the women’s compassion, the Germans instead kept Doyle a prisoner of War, treated his injuries, and tried to save his right leg. But gangrene got best of the Improbable Ace’s limb forcing German doctors to amputate it during his captivity.

Gonzalez told of Doyle’s passion for flying, and despite his handicap, how he became a licensed “one legged pilot. The United Kingdom hired Doyle, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross from King George V, in 1941 to coach WWII fighter pilots in simulators and write technical manuals. The one-legged pilot rejoined the RAF Volunteer Reserves later in 1941, was promoted to flying officer in 1942, and served as Chief Ground Instructor at bomber stations throughout the UK.

Gonzalez’s flair for storytelling conjured up images, in my mind, of Ben Affleck staring as Capt. John Doyle in the movie, “Improbable Ace.” The college professor vividly related Doyle’s arrival at the RAF Doncaster, Air Station, South Yorkshire, England, flying a French reconnaissance and light bomber aircraft, the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2, the B.E.12, and the Armstrong Witworth F.K.8 Bomber/Reconnaissance Aircraft.

Gonzalez animatedly described the ego clashes and daredevil antics between Doyle, and the flamboyant Canadian Flying Ace William Avery “Billy” Bishop. He told of Doyle’s interaction with the seasoned Field Marshall Jan Smuts, and bond with the Father of the Royal Air Force, RAF Marshal Hugh “Boom” Trenchard.  I imaged Gonzalez’s illustrations of these personalities jumping from his lecture stand onto the big screen with possible reincarnations of Bishop by Ryan Reynolds, Smuts by Sean Connery, and “Boom Trechard” by Anthony Hopkins.

Mining New WWI Historical Veins

The California State Military History Museum, with its gift shop in Old Sac, would have been served as a distribution center, so to speak, for California WWI History Association for their T-Shirts and other WWI novelties they're selling to help build the Weight of Sacrifices Memorial in Washington DC.
The California State Military History Museum, with its gift shop in Old Sac, would have served as a distribution center, so to speak, for California’s WWI History Association to sell the  T-Shirts and other WWI novelties to raise funds for the  Weight of Sacrifices” Memorial in Washington DC.

A lecture that the now defunct California Center for Military History (CCMH) could have recorded and archived in the California State Military Museum’s MG Walter P. Story Library and Research Center if Gov. Jerry Brown hadn’t issued, what is tantamount to, an executive order in 2014 dismantling the Museum and its command. The Museum had become the historical infrastructure for scholars, and a proven resource center for the historical entertainment industry such as HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and Touchtone Pictures “Pearl Harbor.”

With the MG Walter P. Story Library and Resource Center’s plexus of military think tanks, archives, and military museums on the West Coast, the Military Museum in Old Sacramento would be the perfect venue for the WWI Centennial’s March 15th Lecturer Barbara Wilcox, author of, World War I Army Training by San Francisco Bay: The Story of Camp Fremont.

I could see the wheels of historical insight churning in former Foundation Chairman Dr. Roger McGrath’s mind, directing the CCMH to deploy WWI character actors to Old Sac’s boardwalks, handing out Camp Fremont lecture flyers, bewitching locals into Museum’s halo-like sanctuary. Luring them down the Museum’s WWI corridor past the display the Medal of Honor Recipient Capt. Nelson Holderman’s manikin, weaving through exhibits of WWI trench life, and onto the cases of WWI weaponry, equipment, and armored vehicles that mired California’s WWI vets into the mud of the WWI Battlefields. There would most likely be a model of Camp Fremont near Palo Alto, where these Doughboys journey began, and definitely a scaled replica of the WWI Centennial Commission’s “Weight of Sacrifices,” where the legacy of their offerings will end for posterity.

With his propensity for scholarship, I can envision former Acting CCMH Commander COL (CA) Fred Rutledge (now on leave of absence from the State Military Reserve) employing his imaginative genius to: recruit college professors; historians; military war college instructors; foundation directors; and WWI Centennial Association members like George Young Jr. to join Wilcox in a panel discussion in the Museum’s upstairs classroom. With its reputation for capturing the spirit of the California soldier, it’s not difficult to conceptualize such a panel opening new veins to WWI history.

Examining WWI Trends

Such as that of which Young told me about during lunch following the Improbable Ace lecture. The knowledgeable Young told me of the National Guard’s 41st Infantry Division trek from their mobilization at Camp Fremont, subsequent training at Camp Greene, NC, and their deployment to France on Nov. 26, 1917. He explained how the 41st was designated a “replacement division,” and divvied up among other American Infantry Divisions that saw action at the Third Battle of the Aisne, the Meuse-ArgonneChateau-Thierry, Aisne Marne, and St. Mihiel. And he told me of a mission some of these replacements were assigned that is perhaps obscured from history–the Siberian Intervention.

Young’s revelation piqued my curiosity, and if I were a betting man, would gamble that it would have stimulated old CCMH’s reputation for mining newly discovered veins of military history. I can almost feel former CCMH Military Commander COL (CA) Ken Nielsen dispatching his certified military historians to explore the similarities of the interim periods between WWI and WWII with today’s post-9-11 Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) events.

I can see Nielsen encouraging his historians to delve into research of the Ottoman Empire’s WW I alliance with Germany, its decline in defeat, and examining similarities of current Middle East events. Meticulously studying the fall of the Islamic-dominated Turkish Empire, and how nearly two centuries of American missionary work in the Middle East influenced Arab Nationalism.  Whipping in some analysis of the demise of Colonialism, the rise Zionism, the upsurge of radical Islamic Theocracies, and the threat of Communism to Arab Nationalism in the post WWI Middle East to find any parallel historical trends.

A once highly motivated CCMH staff would have investigated connections between the West’s stonewalling Communism in the Middle East and possible backlash from its failed Siberian Intervention campaign to help the White Army defeat the Red Army in Russia’s Civil War. They would have sniffed out any WWI historical tidbits warning of Vladimir Putin’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for Russian Hegemony in the Middle East. Whether WWI Foreign policy offers any insight into the rise of radical Iranian Theocracy with its sinister pledge to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth, and its agenda of Pogroms of Christians. Opening perhaps another historical vein asking if Iran’s Theocracy is a rewrite of the Ottoman Empire’s Barbary Wars against America.

And if the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) radical belief of enslaving humanity to the Muslim Faith and imposing Sharia’s Law upon the Human Race is a repeat of the Ottoman Empire’s sponsorship of radical Islam’s slaughter of Christians at Armenia.  Results of which author Michael B. Oren indicates swayed American WWI neutrality with Turkey, and was a factor for its entry into the War to end all Wars in his book, “Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to Present.”

Conclusion: Over the Top

As WWI Centernnial Associations scramble to preserve artifacts like this 40th Infantry Div. WWI helmet, they are disappearing under the State Military Department's Command in California.
As WWI Centernnial Associations scramble to preserve artifacts like this 40th Infantry Div. WWI helmet, they are disappearing under the State Military Department’s Command in California.

CCMH analysis and research that would have been recorded at the Walter P. Story Library and Resource Center and available for all Californians to study, opening their minds, and broadening their perspectives with revelations between WWI and current history. A resource that is no longer available for California’s school children, high school students, scholars, and voters who routinely visited the Museum before its 2014 closure.

Accessible to professional military officers and soldiers to survey WWI mobilization, training, and campaign errors, uncovering experiences for the Center of Army Lessons Learned (CALL). Comparing “Over the Top” orders that sent thousands of American Doughboys over the top of WWI trenches into unnecessary battles allegedly fought for Battlefield Promotions for senior officers before the clock struck peace at the 11th hour, 11th day, of the 11th month of the Armistice, to post 9-11 mobilizations. There are perhaps some seeds of wisdom for the 9-11 generation can find in 11-11-11; asking whether military structuring is being done with an order of battle deployment flow to achieve decisive victory and minimum causalities?… Or to perhaps swiftly promote officers before war missions dry up?

There is much to learn from WWI, and a restored California Military History Foundation with authority over its subordinate state defense force History Center is the most efficient, and least costly way to do it. But a California Attorney General’s Office that insists on supporting the State Military Departments’ interpretation that it, not the legislatively mandated State Military History Foundation, is in charge of the state’s Military Museum and owns its artifacts, has forced the Military Museum’s Closure.  And an Attorney General’s erroneous belief that a California Military Veteran’s Code (CMVC) law that states that the State Active Duty (SAD) and California State Military Reserve (CSMR) are part of the organized militias somehow overrides Federal Law which says they are not, has effectively denigrated these unpaid volunteers’ mission and enthusiasm.

These are over-the-top orders that have given an unprofessionally-paid State Active Duty (SAD) Command sanction to send an unpaid volunteer, professionally-trained California Center for Military History into certain organizational death so that the Command can seize the the citizen-owned California Military History Museum in Old Sacramento. These actions come at an exorbitant cost to the California’s taxpayers. They once paid a miniscule amount of their taxpayer dollar for a Museum to which the public had full access and services. They now pay more of their tax dollars to support a conquering state’s paid military force that the State’s Attorney General’s given “Posse-Comitatus-like” sanction to operate a State Military Museum to which the public has neither access, nor receive services.

A growing full-time, state paid, bureaucracy burdening down the California taxpayer, weighing down the California’s WWI Centennial Association, desecrating California’s WWI archives, and depriving Californians of lessons learned from the  “War to End all Wars,” in this year of the WWI Centennial.

Pride & Leadership. (Left) The California Center for Military History (CCMH) is now the California Heritage Command (right). The CCMH trained under the auspices of the United States Army Military History Command maintaining its Old Sac Museum and its branches. The Heritage Command is struggling under the bungling leadership of the State Military Department to find purpose and direction for the mission they volunteered their services.
Pride & Leadership. (Left) The California Center for Military History (CCMH) is now the California Heritage Command (right). The CCMH trained under the auspices of the United States Army Military History Command maintaining its Old Sac Museum and its branches. The Heritage Command is struggling under the bungling leadership of the State Military Department to find purpose and direction for the mission they volunteered their services.