In commemoration of the 100thanniversary of World War I, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is running a series entitled “Hometown Boys.”
A segment published on March 2 of this year features a photo from the National Archives of men loading huge mortars at Fort DuPont. The short piece discusses the forty-three Delawareans who lost their lives in “The Great War” and mentions the contributions of the Dupont Company to the war effort. It states that DuPont “produced about 40% of the explosives used by the Allies.” (https://www.abmc.gov/news-events/news/hometown-boys-delaware-information-and-statistics-about-wwi-service-members#.Wt4T3iMrLyh)
I had a couple thoughts when I read this brief history. One was that the article missed the role of my former employer, Hercules Incorporated. During WWI, Hercules employed thousands making munitions for the war.
One of the Hercules’ sites was in the small community of Kenvil, New Jersey, located in Morris County’s Roxbury Township. Kenvil during WWI was the size of a small city with hundreds of buildings. Through the decades and multiple wars, Kenvil was built over so many times that remediation experts on the site would encounter rooftops deep into the earth as recently as the early 2000’s. Also, any excavations were undertaken with great care due to the presence of what engineers referred to as “energetics.” Energetics were the residual explosive substances such as nitroglycerine and various explosive powders embedded in old buried structures.
A second thought that occurred to me was to reflect on how Delaware had remembered the War.
It had been many years since I had read the various plaques that line the Washington Street Bridge in Wilmington, so I decided to cross the bridge on foot (one of the few times I had crossed on foot since I had secured my driver’s license over fifty years ago).
From a timing standpoint, it turns out that the construction of the bridge aligns closely with the creation of the AMBC. The chairman of the commission to build the bridge and commemorate our war dead was the prominent industrialist and philanthropist Alfred I. duPont. Another prominent local businessman to serve was Benjamin F. Shaw.
Although WWI was clearly prominent in the minds of Delawareans, the commission decided to dedicate the bridge, one of Wilmington’s most beautiful landmarks, to Delawareans who had died for their country going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Dedicated on Memorial Day 1922, one of the bronze tablets quotes “The Father of our Country.”
May ample justice be done them here, and may the choicest of heaven’s favors, both here and hereafter, attend those who under the divine auspices, have secured innumerable blessings for others.
As I headed back to my parked car, I glanced up and noticed the Charles Park statue in Brandywine Park honoring the 166 Delawareans who lost their lives in Vietnam. As I remembered that cloudy Veteran’s Day in 1983 that was so personal to me, I wondered if those who gathered in 1922 to dedicate the bridge, could possibly have imagined what the future had in store ̶̶ after all, WWI was supposed to be the “War to end all wars.” Since WWI over 93,000 graves have been added to the American cemeteries overseas, and that is only a fraction of the Americans who lost their lives so others might be free.