By Michael Baadke
The United States Postal Service will issue a single forever stamp July 27 to pay tribute to America’s important contributions to the Allied victory in World War I.
The Postal Service has titled the issue World War I: Turning the Tide. It comes in the 100th anniversary year of the end of what was long called “the Great War.”
The offset-printed stamp will be issued in panes of 20, with a first-day ceremony planned for 11 a.m. CDT in the J.C. Nichols Lobby and Auditorium at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, 2 Memorial Drive, Kansas City, Mo. The museum advises that admission is free with advance registration. Visit online for information.
The nondenominated (50¢) stamp features a portrait of a U.S. soldier from the American Expeditionary Force that began arriving in Europe in the summer of 1917.
The soldier is wearing a steel combat helmet, and the collar of his uniform includes artillery regiment insignia.
In his right hand the soldier is holding the pole for the American flag he is grasping in his left hand.
The gathered flag presumably is the 48-star flag adopted after Arizona joined the union in 1912.
In the background of the stamp design are smoke and barbed wire against yellow rays in the sky. Two biplanes fly above the battlefield.
The illustration by artist Mark Stutzman “was painted in airbrush on illustration board, a technique that evokes the propaganda posters used during World War I,” according to the Postal Service.
According to the Postal Service, the stamp design is an original piece of art by Stutzman inspired and influenced by posters of the time.
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Hundreds of posters created and displayed during the period of U.S. involvement in World War I (1917-18) communicated patriotic themes, efforts to boost enlistment, support for those serving overseas, and the importance of buying bonds to support the war effort.
Postal Service art director Greg Breeding designed the new stamp.
Stamp collectors might remember Stutzman as the artist whose painting of “Young Elvis” was presented to the American public as one of two choices they could vote for to determine the design of the 29¢ Elvis stamp that would be issued in 1993 (Scott 2721).
Stutzman’s portrait of Elvis holding a microphone prevailed and appeared on two different sheet stamps as well as a booklet stamp. In the same American Music stamp series, Stutzman also created portraits to honor popular rock musicians Bill Haley, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly.
After years of simmering and tangled tensions across Europe, WWI was triggered by the 1914 assassination in Sarajevo of Austria’s 50-year-old Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg.
The Allied Powers of France, the British Empire, Serbia, Russia and others battled the combined strength of the Central Powers that included the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.
More than two and a half years after the war began, the United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson, abandoned its previous stance of neutrality and on April 6, 1917, declared war against Germany after that nation’s naval campaign turned to sinking American merchant ships in the North Atlantic.
Fresh American troops led by Gen. John J. Pershing arrived in the battlefields of France in the spring of 1918, and the tide of war turned to the advantage of the Allies.
The Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, ended the military hostilities, but the war that saw U.S. troop numbers surge to more than 4.7 million had rained death and destruction across Europe.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports more than 116,000 American deaths in service during WWI with another 200,000 wounded.
Across all nations the war killed some 8.5 million soldiers and additional millions of civilians.
“World War I provided the United States with valuable strategic lessons and an officer corps that would become the nucleus for mobilizing and commanding sixteen million American military personnel in World War II,” according to the Library of Congress.
The end of the conflict and the Allied victory was commemorated by the U.S. Post Office Department with a single violet 3¢ stamp designed by Clair Aubrey Huston and issued March 3, 1919 (Scott 537).
This first stamp addressing the first World War was not the massive success one might imagine. The stamp paid the 3¢ war emergency rate that reverted to 2¢ less than four months later, so its active life paying postage for first-class letters was brief.
The USPOD alerted postmasters, “The issue of the Liberty Victorious issue is not sufficiently large to take the place of the regular issue of 3¢ stamps, and postmasters will, therefore, supply them only to patrons who request them.”
Later issues commemorating the war and remembering those who fought have been somewhat subdued.
A single 22¢ stamp for World War I Veterans was issued Aug. 26, 1985, and shows an engraved design of the Battle of Marne in France (Scott 2154).
The war was featured on just one stamp in the 1998 Celebrate the Century set for the decade of the 1910s, in the form of a 32¢ Pointing Uncle Sam Poster stamp with the phrase “I Want You” (Scott 3183i).
The original poster created by James Montgomery Flagg often included the follow-up line “For U.S. Army.”
The decorative selvage of the 1910s Celebrate sheet pictures a related image with this description: “On New York City’s Fifth Avenue, Boy Scouts participate in a patriotic ‘Wake Up America’ rally. People were encouraged to buy World War I Liberty Loan Bonds.”
Another WWI illustration by Flagg appears on a 34¢ stamp issued not to commemorate the war, but rather, as part of a 2001 set celebrating American illustrators.
The stamp (Scott 3502a) depicts the image from a WWI Marine Corps poster dominated by an American flag and a leatherneck. “First in the Fight, Always Faithful” is the title given in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers.
Individual officers and servicemen from the war have been honored on stamps as well, including Pershing on an 8¢ brown definitive in 1961 (Scott 1214), Gen. William “Billy” L. Mitchell on a 55¢ commemorative in 1999 (3330), and Sgt. Alvin C. York on a 33¢ commemorative in 2000 (3395).
The last surviving U.S. military veteran of WWI, Army corporal Frank Buckles, had enlisted at age 16 in 1917. He died at age 110 on Feb. 27, 2011.