Skip to main content

Beacon Senior News

100 years of war: Honoring those who fought bravely

Nov 06, 2018 04:14AM ● By Jan Weeks

A crew of 10 anti-aircraft soldiers pose with their “flaming onion” AA gun.

In 1918, on November 11, at 11 a.m., the war to end all wars came to an end when Germany sued for peace after four long years of combat. Though the fighting stopped, it would take until June 28, 1919, for hostilities to officially end with the Treaty of Versailles. Germany had little input on drafting the treaty, and some historians believe the harsh penalties imposed on Germany led to massive resentment that allowed Adolph Hitler to come to power. And we all know how that ended.

U.S. infantry at the Battle of Verdun, France.

The Great War began on June 28, 1914, when a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo, in a bid to free Bosnia and Herzegovina from Austro-Hungarian rule. For four long years, the Central Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Japan and the Ottoman Empire—fought the Allies—France, Great Britain, Italy and America.

WWI military heroes at Kansas City, from left: General Jacques (Belgium), General Armando Dias (Italy), Vice President Calvin Coolidge, Marshall Foch (France), Admiral Sir David Beatty (UK) and General John J. Pershing

World War I brought terrible weapons, unavailable before, to bear. New types of gun design, range and ammunition allowed both defenders and aggressors to use artillery to kill more people than any other weapon. Machine guns could fire 450 to 600 rounds per minute to mow attacking lines of soldiers down like stalks of wheat under the scythe.

Tanks, aircraft and submarines added to the arsenals, but the most silent, though seldom deadly, weapon was poison gas. On April 22, 1915, German artillery fired cylinders containing chlorine gas in the Ypres area, sending other countries rushing to develop their own deadly gasses. Chlorine gas attacked the eyes and respiratory system; mustard gas did the same but also caused blistering on any exposed skin. The gasses were not usually deadly but incapacitated large numbers of troops and had lifelong effects on those exposed.

Pearl and William Shepherd.

Places most Americans had never heard of became infamous killing grounds: Gallipoli, Verdun, the Marne, the Somme, Passchendaele, Amiens and more. Germany’s military back was broken when the Allies, battered but not broken, were joined by thousands of fresh troops from the U.S., commanded by General John “Blackjack” Pershing.

Over the next 100 days, the Allies forced Germany to retreat behind the Hindenburg Line. The Allies broke through, and the Germans surrendered. An armistice brought the bloody battles of World War I to an end.

American Red Cross letter on displayat VA Hospital notifying PearlShepherd of her husband William’sreturn to the states.

The heroism and horrors of the Great War were memorialized in songs such as “Over There”; novels like “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and local author Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun;” movies such as “Legends of the Fall,” and “Wings,” a silent 1927 movie. Perhaps the most memorable piece of writing was the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” penned by John McCrae, a Canadian physician who fought in the second battle of Ypres in Flanders. His reference to the poppies blowing between rows of white crosses is why the American Legion Auxiliary still sells paper poppies to honor veterans.

Until June 1, 1954, November 11 was called Armistice Day. President Eisenhower signed legislation striking the word “armistice” and adding “veterans” after veterans’ service organizations lobbied for the change and Congress amended the 1938 act that had made Armistice Day a holiday.

This month, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war to end all wars, let us remember and honor those who fought so bravely in so many conflicts, and let us pray that there may one day finally be an end to all wars.