Lawmakers hear plans for state’s WWI centennial observances
FRANKFORT – More than 100,000 young men from across the United States trained at Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville before being shipped overseas to fight in the Great War.
To highlight Kentucky’s contribution World War I, a life-replica of one of the camp’s barracks will be on display at the upcoming Kentucky State Fair, said Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Director Heather French Henry while testifying before yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Projection. The replica will be part of an exhibit covering nearly a quarter acre that will also include a trench made of 480 sandbags, donated by Fort Knox, containing 20 tons of sand.
“There are over 600,000 folks that travel through the state fair,” said French Henry, a member of the Kentucky World War I Centennial Committee. “It is the most excellent way to get the word and message out to the most diverse population that enters into any realm in the state.”
The United States officially entered WWI on April 6, 1917. Seven months later, the sprawling Camp Zachary Taylor training facility opened. It was the largest of 16 camps that dotted the United States and contained more than 2,000 buildings that housed more than 40,000 troops.
“We had a profound effect on the servicemen that were going overseas and really contributed to the great Allied victory of World War I,” French Henry said.
The camp was auctioned off as 1,500 different parcels of land in 1921 and became the Camp Taylor neighborhood. Many of the parcels were bought by the soldiers returning to the area after completing their term of service.
“World War I is largely a forgotten war,” French Henry said. “It’s been over 100 years. We have no living World War I veterans.”
Kentucky’s last WWI veteran was Robley Henry Rex of Louisville.
“Even in his elderly years, he still had a great mind, could recognize faces,” French Henry said of Rex. “And he hugged about as tight as anyone else I have ever hugged in my life. He was a wonderful representative for us. But sadly, sometimes that history … goes by the wayside when they are not among us.”
Rex died four days before his 108th birthday, in April 2009, at the veterans hospital in Louisville, later renamed the Robley Rex V.A. Medical Center.
Kentucky had more than 2,000 casualties during WWI, and French Henry’s department has a casualty list by county.
“It happens that almost every county – all 120 – contributed their sons and daughters to the efforts of the United States in the Great War,” French Henry said. “Even if it is 100 years later, it is never too late to remember someone’s sacrifice and service.”
Committee Co-chair Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said he was impressed that French Henry could organize such an exhibition since no state money was budgeted for it.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I am,” Moore said of the fair exhibit and other events planned for the centennial. “We expected something to come together, but not the incredible plethora of activities and educational opportunities you have outlined for us today.
In other news, French Henry announced that the Radcliff Veterans Center, a 120-bed skilled nursing facility, has now started accepting its first residents. Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said there is a pent-up demand for such a facility in the region.
“I’m starting now to get phone calls all the time,” he said in reference to inquiries from veterans wanting to move there.
French Henry said a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center is set for July 21.
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