This holiday to honor our veterans of past and present wars often passes with little notice. It should not be so. Many don’t even recall the original holiday and its background. It was Armistice Day. It was a day to celebrate the end of the Great War. That was the moniker for WWI before there was a WWII. That mighty and titanic struggle to beat back the Germanic thrust into France and the Low Countries. There was a certain numeric alliteration to the date. The documents were signed for the truce the day before but it would take time to communicate the order to stand down to all the men under arms on both sides so the time was picked as the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was at that time that the guns fell silent on the Western Front and then throughout all areas of conflict.
The US entered the War late. Our first troops didn’t really arrive until the spring of 1918. There was a contingent of Marines in our forces that had been accepted reluctantly by Pershing. The Army wanted no Marines, they wanted this to be an all Army show. Later everyone would be glad that the Marines were there to fight in the Argonne Forest and other locales. Our forces didn’t become fully engaged in the battles until that summer. Until then we spent most of our time training under the supervision of the British and French armies. They had three years of experience on us and we needed the help. We also resented it. We had rushed so quickly to prepare and ship our troops overseas with all the necessary logistical support that we didn’t have the time to manufacture cannon. During WWI our army and Marines used 75’s that built by the French.
During the summer and early fall of 1918 the use of gas was still prevalent in the battles by both sides. I personally knew a fellow who was a friend of our family that suffered from a gas attack during that summer. It burned out his lungs to a great extent and he had bad health the rest of his life. It was a close run thing. The Russian had dropped completely out of the battle in the fall of 1917 due to the Communist Revolution and the Germans were able to transfer all those troops to the Western Front and with them they launched their last great offensive of the War in the spring of 1918. The Germans had pretty good initial success but the British and French held with some support from us but it was not great in terms of the number of men involved. The Germans were running out of everything by this point in the War including the enthusiasm and spirit to continue the fight. Just as the Battle of the Bulge was the last great effort of the Germans in WWII so was this offensive and the Allies counter attacked with vigor and with the extra forces brought to bear by the AEF, the American Expeditionary Force. From late spring of 1918 the Germans were on the retreat almost everywhere. Other than local counter attacks they were retreating broadly. Of course it was still in small increments.
The battles were horrific to the end. Our famous Sgt. York, who won the Medal of Honor got that award for action only days before the Armistice was signed. Almost all our casualties came in those last few months of the War. We were still planning a major assault on the German positions literally right up to the time of the Armistice. That truce saved thousands of lives both Allied and German because that advance never happened.
That was a grimy and seemingly endless war of attrition, dirt and injuries beyond most description. Most of the casualties in that War came from cannon fire. Regrettably it did turn out to be only a truce. Yes, there was the Treaty of Versailles signed the following spring but all it did was lay the groundwork for and assure the inevitable coming of WWII.
Those were only some of our veterans from our ages past. That war was not glamorous and it is difficult with hindsight to discern the necessity of that war. But they were our boys and they fought for our benefit. Whatever the morality or politics of that war and its aftermath, a loss would have been far worse for our nation than the victory.
All those who have served have come home victors and they deserve our praise and admiration and thanks. Seek out a Vet today and simply tell him “Thanks” . Most of us have never walked in those boots but we should be grateful that others trod in them for us.
“If all that Americans want is security they can go to prison. They’ll have enough to east, a bed, and a roof over their heads. But if an American want to preserve his dignity and his equality as a human being he must not bow his neck to any dictatorial government.” Dwight Eisenhower. www.olcranky.wordpress.com and see more at http://www.americanchronicle.com