11.11.11: The Anthem Veterans Memorial

At 11:00 am on November 8, 1918, Marshal Foch, the supreme Allied commander, gave German negotiators a 72 hour deadline.  They were to agree to his terms or the war would continue unabated.  To pressure his enemy further, Foch did not allow a ceasefire, even when the agreement was signed 5 hours before the deadline.  Fighting continued full-on until 11:00 on November 11.  Then, for the first time in four years, the bells of Big Ben rang over the streets of London.

Waffenstillstand:  “Colorized photograph, which depicts from left to right: German Admiral Ernst Vanselow, German Count Alfred von Oberndorff (1870 – 1963) of the Foreign Ministry, German army general Detlof von Winterfeldt, British Royal Navy Captain J.P.R. Marriott, Matthias Erzberger head of the German delegation Center party member of the Reichstag (1875 – 1921) who was later murdered by Freikorps rightists for his role in the Amristice (sic), British Admiral George Hope, British First Sea Lord Sir Rosslyn Wemyss (1864 – 1933), French field marshall (sic) Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929), and French general Maxime Weygand (1867 – 1965).”

The next year, President Wilson declared November 11 to be Armistice Day, honoring those who served in the Great War.  President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, now including those who fought in World War II and in subsequent wars, still keeping the historic symbolism of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

In 2011, 97 years after the Armistice of World War I, we have the once in a century experience of adding the eleventh year.  The new Anthem Veterans Memorial in Arizona, a beautiful expression of astronomical time, will be dedicated today on 11.11.11.

Designed by Renee Palmer-Jones, it consists of five pillars in graduated heights, representing the five branches of the U.S. military.  At the top of each pillar is a large elliptical shaped hole, gathering sunlight downward through the five ellipses toward a mosaic of the Great Seal of the United States at the foot of the pillars.  Each year on November 11 at precisely 11:11 am, the shadows of the pillars will align into one column and the elliptical sunlight will form a perfect circle shining onto the Great Seal.

Installing the Great Seal at the Anthem Veterans Memorial, November 9, 2011

The design focus of this memorial is the astronomy of November 11, not an arrangement of names.  Yet arrangement principles inform our experience in Anthem.  The pillars are organized by Department of Defense order of precedence.  There are only five units, so this ordering is simpler than the British Army order of precedence used at Edwin Lutyens’ World War I Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval, France.

Chronology forms the basic arrangement, giving precedence to the oldest units.  However, even with only five, there are two exceptions.  Three of the units were founded in 1775:  the Army (June 14), the Navy (October 13) and the Marines (November 10).  The Navy disbanded in 1781, only to be reinstated later the same year.  So it appears third, after the Marines.  The Coast Guard was founded in 1790, but it is now in fifth position as a part of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense.  If the Coast Guard returns to the Department of Defense during a war, it would stand between the Navy and the Air Force (1947).

The arrangement and graduated heights of Anthem’s five pillars display an order of precedence, but the equality of the services is also expressed in the placement of their seals at equal heights on the pillars’ narrow sides.  This equality carries through in the benches at the front of the memorial.  Although they are five in number, they are not individually designated with the name of a military unit.

The Anthem Memorial Planning Committee used the fund-raising technique of engraved brick pavers that can be purchased to honor military personnel or to show community support.  Pavers with military names form a Circle of Honor on the ground around the Great Seal and the pillars.  They are primarily organized chronologically by donation date.  Prior to placement, families can request to be grouped together, similar to the “meaningful adjacencies” of the World Trade Center memorial in New York.  Two rows of blank bricks surround the Circle of Honor in soldier row formation, the typical placement of headstones in military cemeteries.

Pavers representing the non-military support of individuals, businesses and organizations, are arranged by size of donation in front of the benches, with the largest donations at the center bench.  The next two funding tiers are at the left and right of the center bench, with the two end benches reserved for the fourth tier.  The pavers within each tier are in no particular order, although they aren’t quite random.  Liz Turner of the Memorial Planning Committee told me they tried to lay these bricks in a manner that was “aesthetically pleasing.”

In its use of astronomical time, the Anthem Veterans Memorial fully honors the historic tradition of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  Its primary symbol is the gathering of sunlight onto the Great Seal of the United States at 11:11 on November 11.  Yet peripheral arrangement decisions add power to this memorial.  Those pillars could be in alphabetical order, but this is a memorial to history.  Order of precedence reflects that.

I will be at the dedication ceremony today in the Anthem Community Park.  The ellipses of the Anthem Veterans Memorial will form a circle of light once a year, but we can only experience the eleventh year once in a hundred years.


Thanks to Steve Seivert, Project Manager for Haydon Building Corp, and to Liz Turner of Anthem’s Memorial Planning Committee for generously sharing their time with me in the last few days before the memorial’s dedication.  In addition to Renee Palmer-Jones, the memorial’s designer, members of the Memorial Planning Committee include Ronald Tucker, who conceived the idea of a veterans’ memorial in Anthem; Steve Rusch, a draftsman who helped build the model; and Jim Martin, an engineer who figured out the astronomy angles.

Illustration Credits:

Waffenstillstand.  Caption and public domain graphic from Wikimedia Commons.

Installing the Great Seal at the Anthem Veterans Memorial, November 9, 2011.  Photo by the author.


Nov 2011