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Library of Michigan marks 100th anniversary of World War I; reviews role of Selfridge Field, Michigan pilot in conflict

  • Published
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
The role of Selfridge Field, and a key early Michigan Airman, will be part of the discussion as the Library of Michigan (LM) commemorates the 100th anniversary of the "War That Changed the World."

The day-long symposium will look at the historical significance and global consequences of World War I - a global conflict which was the impetus for the creation of today's Selfridge Air National Guard Base. The symposium at the LM will be held on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.

The war, which began on July 28, 1914, ultimately claimed 16 million military and civilian lives and 20 million wounded, including 5,000 dead and 15,000 injured soldiers from Michigan.

"So many people sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy today," said State Dept. of Education Superintendent Mike Flanagan. "The fact that the symposium is being held on the 100th anniversary of the war's start makes this an especially poignant event."

Among World War I's many impacts on Michigan was the establishment of Selfridge Field in Macomb County's Harrison Township in the summer of 1917, as America entered the war. Selfridge was used as a training base for pilots in the Army's fledgling Air Service, which would eventually become the U.S. Air Force. Pilots and aerial gunners trained at Selfridge were rushed to the front in France, where American air power was first deployed as a significant military force.

World War I also prompted the enlistment of Phelps Collins, a young business owner in Alpena. Collins began his service in the war as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in France and then quickly moved on to service in the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of Americans who began flying as volunteers with the French air service. When the first American air squadrons were formed in France, Collins was appointed as a captain in the Army and continued to serve as a "pursuit" pilot, as fighter aircraft were known at the time. Sadly, Collins became the first member of an American "aero squadron" to die while in aerial combat during that war. An air base in his home town of Alpena was later named in his honor.

Michigan Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton, author of the 2013 twin biography "Selfridge & Collins," will be among the presenters at the LM, and will discuss the creation and early days of Selfridge Field and the life and war-time service of Collins.

Other events at the symposium will include a panel of experts from the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn examining the war in the Ottoman Empire and its affect in Michigan. Helen Zoe Veit, author of a new book, Modern Food, Moral Food, a finalist for the 2014 James Beard Foundation Book Award, gives the closing talk.

Martin Walsh from the University of Michigan and Erin Smith, chief of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic Team at Ann Arbor Veterans Administration Hospital, will talk about shell shock, as it was called during the war. Also, a special guest from the Michigan Historical Museum discusses the care and identification of uniforms.

Meanwhile, on display in the Library of Michigan's Rare Book Room will be Joe Sacco's "The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme," a 24-foot-longpanorama. Sacco's work illustrates, in minutely-detailed black-and-white drawings, events just before and during a summer day when the British army suffered more than 57,000 casualties - its greatest single-day loss.

"The war was so large and complex, everyone will walk away having learned something and then maybe go on and expand their own research," said State Librarian Randy Riley.

To register for the event online, visit

Registration the day of the event is from 8:20-9:20 a.m. with light refreshments. Admission is $20 per person - $10 for veterans with identification. A box lunch is included. Parking at the Michigan Library & Historical Center, located at 702 W. Kalamazoo St. in Lansing, is $1 an hour or $8 a day.

Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.