Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of Allied forces in France during World War I, was clearly impressed during his 1921 visit to Baltimore.
At the November groundbreaking ceremony for the War Memorial Building, he complimented the crowd of thousands for their patriotic fervor.
"Maryland and Baltimore aided the war in every possible way," the French war hero said through an interpreter, according to a contemporary account in The Baltimore Sun. "You sent me gallant soldiers and valuable materials, and I can feel here a spirit that moves a nation forward in peace as well as in war."
On Thursday, Michel Charbonnier, the consul general of France, echoed Foch's words as he and other officials marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I by laying a dozen wreaths at the War Memorial to commemorate the 62,000 Marylanders who served in the war.
"Our presence here today is not mundane," Charbonnier said. "It symbolizes the solidarity of two nations dedicated to freedom and friendship between France and the United States that has endured since the Revolutionary War."
The War Memorial Building functions not only as a memorial but as a place of civic engagement and community life, said Mayor Catherine Pugh, who held her inauguration ceremony in December inside the building. The cavernous hall hosts events and sometimes serves as an overflow shelter for the homeless on particularly hot or cold days.
"Is this not a fabulous building?" Pugh said. "This building stands as a testament to Baltimore, a commitment to the veterans and to all people."
The War Memorial — at Gay and Lexington streets, across the plaza from City Hall — was dedicated in 1925. Inscribed on its walls are the names of the 1,742 Marylanders who died in the "War to End All Wars," including 770 Baltimoreans.
The building was rededicated in 1977 by Mayor William Donald Schaefer in honor of all Marylanders who died in 20th-century wars. .
Renowned Baltimore architect Laurence Hall Fowler designed the Neoclassical-style structure, which was built of Indiana limestone.
The building was "consecrated to the heroic dead who laid their lives on the altar of freedom, and in those yet living who took up the torch from falling hands and carried it to triumph," The Sun reported at its dedication in 1925. "In Memorial Plaza it stands, a monument of templelike appearance, devoted in the uses of the living and to the memories of the dead."
The sound of taps echoing through the hall Thursday stirred the emotions of retired Army Lt. Col. Alfred Shehab, whose thoughts turned to his fellow World War II soldiers. He laid a wreath on behalf of the Association of the U.S. Army, a nonprofit advocacy group.
"I start seeing a parade of the fellas I served with," the 97-year-old Odenton man said. He paused to compose himself as tears welled in his eyes. "My troop commander, my squadron commander, all these people — they come to life."
Army officials from Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, which also celebrate centennials this year, cited the significance of the U.S. joining World War I in creating what would become Maryland's two largest military installations.
Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs George Owens spoke of the last soldier killed in the war: Sgt. Henry Nicholas Gunther, 23, a Baltimorean who lived on Eastern Avenue next to Patterson Park. Gunther, a member of the 313th Infantry Regiment, Company A, known as "Baltimore's Own," is buried near Belair and Moravia roads.
"He died one minute before armistice," Owens said. "Let that sink in: A Marylander was the last casualty before armistice."
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Sheldon Goldberg is the commander of the Department of the National Capital Region of the Military Order of the World Wars, which sponsored Thursday's event. The 78-year-old from Silver Spring said the War Memorial's history was a key factor in deciding to host the event there.
"You've got this beautiful War Memorial Building, built in 1925 and dedicated to Marylanders who served in World War I," he said. "What better place?"
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.