And, oh my, we had to pass the wounded. And some of them were on stretchers going back to the dressing stations, and some of them were lying around, moaning and twitching. And the dead were all along the road. — Alvin York, United States Army, Medal of Honor
Anniversaries are important milestones and perhaps none more so than 100-year ones. In November 1918, when the guns fell silent in Europe and World War I ended, the level of destruction and human suffering was so vast it is difficult for us, 100 years on, to comprehend. On November 11, 2018, Armistice Day, we have the opportunity to reflect on the cost of that hard-earned victory 100 years ago.
When war broke out in Europe in 1914, most Americans did not want our country to get involved. Voters elected Woodrow Wilson, who used the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” to a second term in 1916. However, the sinking of American ships and a proposed alliance between Germany and Mexico changed his mind. He convinced Congress to declare war on Germany on April 2, 1917. America must join the fight, Wilson said, “...to make the world safe for democracy.”
By the time America entered the war, Great Britain and France were exhausted from three years of fighting. American intervention eventually sealed the Allied victory. As a result, President Wilson saw an opportunity for the United States to become a global leader in the 20th Century.
But that victory came at quite a cost. At the end of World War I, more than 116,500 Americans had been killed or wounded, were missing in action, or had died from disease. Our state’s citizens paid dearly, as well. Of that number, 2,085 were South Carolinians.
The Armistice halting the War to End All Wars was signed in Compiègne, France, at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918 –hence the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Those who planned the signing hoped that such timing would cement the memory of the end of the Great War for generations to come, but 100 years on one must ask-has it? Today, that date is known as Remembrance Day throughout Canada and most of Europe and is still focused on the war’s end. Here in the United States, it was originally commemorated as Armistice day, but the decision to designate November 11 as Veterans Day in 1954 forever overshadowed its association with World War I – just as many veterans and Gold Star mothers worried.
On the upcoming 100th anniversary, we can rekindle our commitment to honor those who fought and died in the war. Here are a few ways that you can participate:
- By proclamation, Governor McMaster has set aside November 11, 2018 as World War I Remembrance Day. Citizens are encouraged to ring bells at 11 a.m. in honor of those who served, were wounded, and died in the Great War. Many houses of worship have committed to incorporating this into their services.
- Explore the temporary display “11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month” at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home from 1 – 4 p.m. on Sunday Nov. 11. In honor of Armistice Day, Historic Columbia will offer $1 general admission to the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. The display will be on view through Friday, Nov. 30. Visit HistoricColumbia.org to learn more.
- Wear a red poppy. The poppy came to symbolize remembrance of WWI in response to the poem "In Flanders Fields," written in 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae after he witnessed the death of a fellow soldier. The American Legion adopted the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance in 1920. It is appropriate for display on both Veteran’s Day in November and Memorial Day in May. Instructions for making paper poppies can be found on the web.
- Put flowers on one of the two the Spirit of the American Doughboy (Iron Mike) statues in Columbia. The original is located on the corner of Whaley and Wayne Street, the other in the Veterans Memorial Park.
General of the Armies John J. Pershing once said of the men and women of World War I that, “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” It is up to us to make those words true, especially this November on the 11th hour of the 11th day.
Header image caption: Silhouetted lone bugler playing taps during the 100th Anniversary ceremonies commemorating the start of WWI at Liberty Memorial and National World War I Museum in Kansas City. Image courtesy Jim Russell