This Veterans Day… remembering a war from a century ago

This Veterans Day post is written by Michael Staton.
This Veterans Day post is written by Michael Staton.

Here’s a multiple-choice question for you.

When is Veterans Day?

  1. February 16
  2. January 20
  3. November 11
  4. None of the above

The great majority of you know it’s today. What you may not know is that November 11 is the day Germany surrendered to the Allies to end World War I, when the guns fell silent on the Western Front.

I’ve written a few news features for my Facebook author’s page to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The guns began firing in August 1914. The Victorian Age didn’t really end on December 31, 1899. It really ended in August 1914 when the nations of Europe blundered into War, victimized by their tangle of mutual aid treaties. The war shattered the cherished conventions of the Victorian Age. The revolution in women’s fashions symbolize the end of one age and the birth of the Modern Age we now live in. The Victorian Age: long gowns and dresses that look so quaint in old photographs. The Modern Age: the flappers with their short dresses and wild dances.

You cannot pass. Stay here and live. March pass me and die in No-Man's Land, the World War I soldier in the painting seems to be saying.
You cannot pass. Stay here and live. March pass me and die in No-Man’s Land, the World War I soldier in the painting seems to be saying.

The mistakes of World War I led to more mistakes in the decades to follow. A man named Adolph Hitler and his cohorts founded the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – the Nazi Party – in 1921 to rectify what ex-soldiers felt was a stab in the back by politicians who gave away a sure German victory in November 1918. So the Nazis plotted World War II, and the mess they left behind in May 1945 laid the seeds of the Cold War and today’s Age of Terrorism.

So as we honor the service of our soldiers throughout the nation’s history and remember the sacrifice of those who gave their “last full measure of devotion,” the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, we should also take on a cautionary note, remember World War I, and concede that war spawns more problems than it solves.

Take a moment and study the painting that accompanies this blog post. It shows World War I Ally soldiers – including American doughboys – surrounded by a sea of blood. While one soldier lay dying, blood gushing from a chest wound, another beside him fires a machinegun. But notice what’s occurring behind them. Other soldiers buttress – or hold up – the Modern Age. Instead of a sea of blood, a couple stands on a green meadow while a young girl plays with her dog. They symbolize you and me.

We live today in a world of green because of the sacrifices of yesterday's soldiers. They hold up the future.
We live today in a world of green because of the sacrifices of yesterday’s soldiers. They hold up the future.

The soldiers, sailors and dogfighting pilots of World War I are all gone now – their graves marked by crosses if they fell on battlefields or traditional tombstones if they died old men. Gone just like the Civil War Veterans – and soon World War II veterans. We’re only find them inside the covers of history books and great novels like “All Quiet On The Western Front”; in old photographs and news reels, and on the lips of their now elderly children who remember their fathers’ stories of 1917 and 1918.

America entered the Great War on April 6, 1917. For nearly three years President Woodrow Wilson enforced a neutrality policy, but it became harder and harder for him to maintain it as Germany sank U.S. ships sailing to and from Britain. In February 1917, a German U-boat sunk the American liner Housatonic. In response, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Germany. In late March, the Germans sank four more American merchant ships. On April 2, Wilson went before Congress and called on both houses to declare war. They did.

American doughboys arrive in France in 1917 to begin training prior to going up to the trenches.
American doughboys arrive in France in 1917 to begin training prior to going up to the trenches.

The young men of 1917 and 1918 – including my Great Uncle George Kurtz – answered the call and enlisted. By November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe. More than 50,000 lost their lives. Besides fresh troops to fill the trenches, American entry into the war saved Britain, and by extension the rest of the Allies, from bankruptcy. The first 14,000 U.S. troops landed in France in June 1917 and began training for combat. In 1918, American troops would prove to be what the Allies needed to break the German lines and win the war.

If today’s Americans know little about that war from a hundred years ago, they do recall one song from that era… George M. Cohan’s “Over There.”

“Over there, over there.

D-World War I American play jackjsSend the word, send the word over there.

That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming.

The drums are rum-tumming everywhere.

“So prepare, say a prayer.

Send the word, send the word to beware.

We’ll be over there, we’re coming over.

And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.”

# # #

I’m the author of fantasy novels The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin.

My publisher is Wings ePress.

I’ve a personal blog called Live Journal.

Be sure to check out my Facebook Author’s Page.!/pages/Michael-Staton/257163720993943


27 thoughts on “This Veterans Day… remembering a war from a century ago

  1. MIke,
    I do remember ‘The Great War’ but I’m passionate about history. It saddens me that we soon forget and leave those memories, so precious, behind. Great post and thank you. Doris


    1. It’s so important to listen to the stories of the older folks. Now they’re the World War II generation. When I was a little guy, the older generation were the men and women of the World War I period. My Grandma Mid was a little girl during The Great War, ten years old when the war ended. She graduated from an Ohio high school in 1926, my Flapper grandma. She and grandpa (he was in the Ohio National Guard in the early 1920s) told me about life during the Great Depression. It’s their stories I tell when I talk about the 1930s.


  2. A fine post. Thank you for writing it.

    Three of my great-uncles served in World War I. One was gassed and because of poor health was never able to work full-time after that, although he lived into his seventies. One stayed in New York City after the war because his alcoholism had grown so bad he didn’t want his mother to see him in that condition; several years later, he committed suicide. The third returned home and settled back into life as an insurance salesman, farmer, and a keen and self-educated observer of politics and government.

    Are you familiar with Horton Foote’s play/movie “1918”?


    1. Yep, saw 1918, but not during its original movie theater run in 1985. Rented it later and watched it sometime in the late ’80s. Captures the time very well. The influenza epidemic in 1918-19 didn’t strike my ancestral family. TB did, though. All in 1920, it killed one of my Grandma Mid’s sisters (Helen) and their dad David, and a heart attack claimed Mid’s momma, Icie Belle. David and Icie Belle within a few days of each other, and at the age of 12 Grandma Mid was an orphan. The aftermath of World War I was rough on the family. There were 13 kids in the family stretched out over two decades. Eventually Grandma went to live with an older sister, and that older sister — Ethel — became my dearest great aunt, really a second maternal grandmother. I know of one World War I veteran in the family, my Uncle Georgie, one of grandma Mid’s brothers. I remember him sitting in a rocking chair in the front sitting room of my Aunt Ethel and looking out the window at downtown Main Street doings. He’d lost an arm — not in the war but in the 1930s when he fell while hopping onto a train. He died in the early ’60s.


  3. A great post Mike. You sound like such an interesting person! And a very observant and a very ” well-versed in your family history” person. Sounds like a great family behind you, rich with history. Thanks for the timely and informative post.


    1. Thanks for the compliments, Neva. I have to give kudos to my cousin John Snyder, whose grandma was (is) my Aunt Ethel. He’s the genealogist in the family. When my mom was dying (ALS), he offered to do the family history of my grandpa’s side of the family… traced it all the way back to when two brother and a father disembarked their ship in Philadelphia harbor in 1749.


  4. Wonderful and very interesting post, Mike. I think we often forget about how Veteran’s Day came about, or maybe we just don’t know. You have included bits of information and great pictures to make this post not only informative but also a compelling read. Thank you for this unforgettable post to honor all veterans!


    1. Lots of interesting stories that take place during The Great War. One of my favorites… the 1914 Christmas truce. According to one website, “Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing. At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs.”


    1. I do love writing historical pieces as well as family-related stories. I do think that family stories offer up universal truths about agape love.


    1. I imagine women were joyous when they could trade in those late 19th century dresses and unmentionables for the 1920s women’s clothing. I find myself laughing when I look at those 1900 men and women’s bathing suits.


  5. Great post Mike.
    My father-in-law served in WWI but never spoke of it afterwards. Went on to live a full life. My dad was too young for the war and probably would have had a a real dilemma if he had been older. His folks had immigrated from Germany shortly before he was born and his older siblings had been born there. Even though they spoke German at home and he went to a German school, he quickly “forgot’ the language. I’ve always assumed it was because of the anti-German attitudes in the US. My mother-in-law was also first generation German and lived in Kansas. Her German Lutheran church was burned down during the war.

    You forgot to mention that the original name for Nov 11 was Armistice Day, in honor of the end of the fighting in WWI. And it used to be remembered with orange poppies to honor the dead of Flanders Field. Was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

    How the world has changed.


    1. Terrible… burning down the German Lutheran Church. Makes me think of what we did to the Japanese-Americans in World War II. Funny how people behave during war — like changing names of vegetables that have German-sounding names. In a October story on my FB author’s page, I talked about the First Battle of Ypres and poppies. For decades poppies were the only flowers that could grow on these fields wrecked by the great World War I battles at Ypres.


    1. Mentioning your main character is a veteran of the Great War made me think of the movie “Places of the Heart.” Remember?John Malkovich plays a blind World War I veteran who lodges with widow Sally Fields, who is determined to keep her farm alive after he husband dies.


  6. Wonderful post, Mike! Very informative, interesting, and thoughtful. A perfect post for Veterans Day. Thanks for this. Incidentally, I had never thought about WWI being the true end of the Victorian era.


    1. Yea, I did a feature story on my FB author’s page about how the war mutilated the rigid social rules of the Victorian Age… they couldn’t survive the trenches of a “reaper” modern war. No surprise that U.S. suffrage jets’ lot fight for the right to vote was won shortly after the end of the war.


  7. Good post, Mike. In the UK, November the 11th has had a memorable ‘point’ at 11am all of my life. The one minute silence was strictly observed when I was growing up- whether I was in school or out in the street. Shops and business all stopped and did zero when 11 o’clock came round. As a young kid, I can remember when the buses and trams stopped at a ‘halt’ and waited till it was 11.02 minutes past before moving off again. I think the practise of stopping for a whole minute to do nothing but ‘think and remember’ faded a bit in the later 80s but there has been a resurgence of it recently as the centenery of the Great War loomed in the media again.
    BTW- you seem to have missed ‘The Edwardian Era’ which was more accurate for the period around 1914. 😉


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