First lady Jill Biden delivered remarks in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday during a reception to honor World War I veterans and those involved in the creation of the national World War I Memorial.

Staff, volunteers and others involved in the endeavor gathered as Biden and Terry Hamby, chairman of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, spoke to a room that included descendants of World War I veterans.

“America will always remember your families’ sacrifice,” Biden said. “Military spouses and children may not wear the uniform, but they serve our country, too. That was true a century ago, and it’s true now. ... Your work commemorates a generation who changed our world with their courage and their sacrifice.”

The memorial, which is located at Pershing Park near the White House, is one of two national sites designated as World War I memorials. The other is located at the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

Hamby said the idea for a national memorial began when Edwin Fountain, a former vice chair of the commission, saw the local District of Columbia War Memorial to World War I service members on the National Mall in Washington. Fountain thought, “Why not a national memorial?” Hamby told attendees.

“[The memorial] began with the families who sent their sons and daughters off to a country most had never visited, fight in war they certainly didn’t start, but more importantly, were willing to die for peace and liberty for people they never met,” Hamby said.

President Barack Obama signed the World War I Centennial Commission Act in 2013, which created the 12-member body to help provide input and direction for a national memorial, Hamby added. The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act later approved the creation of a memorial to honor the 4.7 million Americans who fought in World War I — and the 116,516 service members who died in the war.

The National World War I Memorial opened to the public in April 2021, but it will not be completed until September of this year. The focal point — a 58-foot bronze sculpture depicting a soldier’s journey through the war — will be installed in July.

“The soldiers’ journey tells the story of a soldier and his comrades as they experience the horrors of war, but more importantly, of our great nation moving forward into a new century” Hamby said.

The last U.S. World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died at age of 110 in 2011.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

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