One hundred years have passed since the end of the Great War, better know by us as World War 1. One hundred years of sunrises and sunsets, and the soldiers are all gone. The last United States soldier to die was Wood Buckles, who was born Feb. 1, 1901 and died in Bethany, Mo., on Feb. 27, 2011 at 110 years, 26 days. He was 16 when he joined up, driving an ambulance for the United Stated Medical Corps.
As of this writing we do not have a national memorial to World War I Veterans. A groundbreaking has taken place in Pershing Park in Washington, D.C. but it will be several years before it is completed. I don’t think the World War I veterans would mind. Theirs’ was the war to end all wars that created World War II. So in the end, World War I was fought as an action to remind us of man’s inhumanity to man that yielded man’s greatest holocaust to men.
On Sept. 21-23 I spent time with the 70th Division Association. I belong to the association because my Dad fought with it during World War II. Our oldest daughter was able to attend this year, which made me happy. While Tom Brokaw labeled them the “Greatest Generation” they should be known as the silent generation when it comes to talking about World War II. The youngest and last medic to know my Dad is now 94. A gentleman of the Association turned 100 while we were in Minneapolis.
While refusing to talk about the war, they had plenty of other stories to tell. So I asked several of them if they participated in any parades or welcome home celebrations. To a person they told me no. Most people do not realize that only soldiers with more than 85 points were discharged right after the war. Most came home in February and March 1946. Their experience was the same.
Soldiers came back on a ship, which usually pulled into New York harbor. The troops were met by a band, usually on a barge in the harbor. Each man was given a decent meal, a handshake, a welcome home and were sent to a camp near where they were drafted or enlisted. They were given a bus or train ticket to their hometown. No real ticker tape parade in New York. Just a “thanks, take care, the bus is it at the gate.”
Unlike today where only .06 percent of the population serve in the military, back in WWII, 9 percent of the people served in the armed forces. In World War I, according to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker,” over 25 percent of the entire male population of the country between the ages of 18 and 31 were in military service.” So it appears that in WWI a greater percentage of men served than the next wars — WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tomorrow, we will take a moment to reflect on Veterans Day and the 11th hour of the 11 day of the 11 month, and we will conclude we will not see the likes of them again. Yet from my speaking to them they want to be remembered as ordinary people like you and like I. They have had dreams, lives and experiences that most of us will never have yet they are beyond special. They are also unique in the fact that they don’t expect our admiration, only our appreciation.
Of the 15,000 men of the 70th Division, nine attended the reunion. At the meeting the classification of our association was changed to comply with IRS regulations on non-profit groups because our membership had fallen below 70 percent veterans. We hope the Association will continue as we remember the “trailblazers.”
In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day saying “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride ... and with gratitude for the victory, both because it has given America opportunity to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
Wilson did not live to see his dream fulfilled but we can still pursue it.