World War I was a particularly significant experience for Hennepin County residents. Over the course of the United States’ eighteen month military involvement overseas, 568 veterans and nurses were killed in action. Shortly after the November 11 Armistice which ended the war, Charles M. Loring, the creator of the Minneapolis Park system, began a project to dedicate an entire section of the parkway to the Hennepin County residents who lost their lives in World War I. The project began in 1919 and was completed two years later, with a dedication ceremony held on June 11, 1921.
As one enters the park, one immediately sees the 568 elm trees which span the four-mile section of Victory Memorial Drive and serve as its main feature. Each tree planted commemorates an individual Hennepin County veteran or nurse who died overseas in service of their country, with a plaque included at its base providing the name, date of birth, date of death, and service information for each individual.
At the southern entrance to the park, there exists a monument inscribed “Victory Memorial Drive” on the front and “So we shall never forget the sacrifice of those who served in the Great War” on the back to remind one of the park’s significance as one leaves. Adjacent to this structure is an American flag with a gold star below it to honor those who gave their lives to make the world safe for democracy.
As one reaches the northern section of the park, this is where they learn the story behind its creation. Located at its center is a second monument which doubles as a flag pole inscribed “in honor of 568 residents of Hennepin County who gave their lives in defense of liberty. The Great War, 1914-1918,” with an American flag flying high above it. In this area, there exist plaques containing dedicatory addresses from Charles Loring, the American Legion, General John J. Pershing, and Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch. Adjacent to these plaques, there includes a display detailing the history of Victory Memorial Drive and Minnesota’s role in World War I.
Each individual tree planted represents the cycle of life. As one Hennepin County nurse or veteran's life ended, the elms trees’ began in order to carry on and preserve the life and memory of the individual for whom it was planted. This could not be all the more so with the centennial of the Armistice which ended the Great War approaching this fall.