view counter

Armistice Day

Commemorating the centennial of a short moment of great peace
      “Don’t the war news look fine now days?” Army Sergeant Albert Dixon wrote on November 4, 1918. “This can’t last much longer for the Germans are in their last stand.”
      By the time Dix’s pen pal, my cousin Cora Smith, received his letter, four years, three months and one week of worldwide warfare had ended. The Armistice signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month ended World War I, as the Great War came to be called. 
      This week, the world celebrates the centennial of that moment of great peace.
      America entered the conflict late, on April 6, 1917, so our war was shorter: one year, seven months and five days, with most of the fighting concentrated in the last nine months.
      For us and the world, the cost was awful. 
      In a worldwide fighting force of 60 million, nine to 11 million died, including 117,000 Americans. The wounded numbered 21 million more, including 205,000 Americans, plus the terrible toll of the shell-shocked.
      “There are lots of the oversea boys here in camp all wounded and all quartered at the base hospital, they most make me bawl every time I see them for some are in bad shape and one can see just what war means,” Sergeant Dixon wrote my cousin from Fort Taylor, Kentucky, where he spent his war as a quartermaster overseeing mule trains.
      Civilian casualties related to the war reached eight to 10 million.
      Animals also died by the millions, as horses and mules provided much of the hauling force. Though in some ways old-fashioned, the Great War was also terribly modern, marking the path for a century of warfare.
      This was the first war to be significantly fought from the air; bombs rained on Europe, destroying lives, land, landscape and livelihood. Poison gas was among the weapons of mass destruction loosed by the war.
     World War I also pioneered the easy worldwide transportation of infectious diseases. The so-called Spanish flu, the most devastating epidemic in modern history, swept round the world, even above the Arctic Circle, proving more deadly than the war. Eight to 10 million more civilians died, with about six million succumbing to war-related famine and disease.
      More Americans died from disease and other causes than in action: 63,114 vs. 53,402. “The flu was sure bad here and some few of our boys ‘kicked off’,” Cora’s pen-pal reported.
      A century has healed most of the wounds and dissipated the memory of all that carnage. New wars and war stories have merged Armistice Day, under the new name Veterans Day, with all that followed. Now on November 11, we honor all who have fought and served.
      Expect to hear bells ring throughout Maryland — and the nation — at 11am on Sunday, November 11. To join in, toll your bells 21 times with a five-second interval between tolls.
      Finally, as usual on Veterans and Memorial Day, we keep up our beloved columnist Bill Burton’s promise to say the name of his friend Henry Beckwith, a Naval aviator who went down over Great Britain in ’44. Henry was only 19. Bill, a Seabee, lived to be 82.