Monday, November 10, 2008

11th Day on the 11th Hour

Video about World War I. The video was specifically selected to get us in this day and age, into the time period and kind of war that was fought in The War to End All Wars. The day was originally envisioned as a way to celebrate the WWI Armistice (the one that finally held). It celebrated the end of the war, and honored the service of the veterans who survived. We have Memorial Day to honor those who did not survive the wars. The WWI Armistice was put into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The actual end of the war would not be signed until 1919, but hostilities finally ended at this historic time and day. It is tradition to stop for two minutes at 11am to honor those who served. It is still done in Europe. I can remember stopping as a young child in New York. In the 1950s it was still important to do. I can also remember buying paper poppies. The sale of the poppies was money raised to help support disabled veterans, widows and orphans of the war. The reason for the poppies was from a famous poem that commemorates the dead of World War I.

The first unknown soldier to be honored in Arlington Cemetery was from World War I. As of THIS article, it appears there is only one living WWI veteran left.

I can remember my Great Uncle Fred (Vatter -- my paternal grandmother's brother) who stood a really tall 5'3" and born in Germany, telling of his experiences in The Great War. He had to censor what he said with children around, I'm sure, but he was really frustrated by several things. He talked about the lack of sanitation in the trenches, and how the constant filth and rain made the trenches sewers that never drained away or dried out. Thus, the feet of the soldiers, his feet, never dried out. A disease called Trenchfoot resulted from this. All the years after the war, he couldn't stand for long periods because of the after effects of trenchfoot.

He also talked about the masses and masses of men that were effected by mustard gas. He was one of them. As the trench warfare made thousands and thousands of wounded who took precedent with the surgeons and doctors, the men effected by the mustard gas just stumbled around blind with no hope of medical attention. Uncle Freddy told how the men would put one hand on the shoulder of the soldier in front of him and then they would march blind from the gas, and no hope of recovery. Rumors and rumors of rumors ran through the ranks, of "cures" for the blindness caused by the mustard gas. In such terrible circumstances, who is to say what might be tried by anyone to cure themselves? He attributed his vision to the "cure" he heard about. He was told to urinate into his helmet and then wash his eyes with his urine. It worked, so it was better than doing nothing -- or perhaps even if he'd done nothing he still would have recovered his sight. He was always angry though, that there weren't enough doctors to be able to attend to the wounded. I also got the feeling that there was something mystical and reverential about his cure. I'd pray for my sight to return. I suspect he did too, though the family wasn't overtly religious.

I also remember him talking about the stink of the dead horses. The bodies of the horses would serve as food when they were fresh, but after days of rotting in the field, especially in the warm weather, their bodies became a plague of flies and odor. No MRE's back then. And, it wouldn't be until WW II and Patton that the Army acknowledged the importance of warm meals for the troops. I think it's important for those of us who have any memories of our relatives' stories from the past, to pass them along for this generation. Perhaps you have a story about a relative of yours from The War to End all Wars.

No matter what, however, thank a veteran tomorrow. It can't be said enough.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army
IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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