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The End of the Great War

November 7, 2018

Without very much remembrance, or fanfare, this Sunday will mark the 100th year since the Great War ended. You may better remember it as the First World War. It has often been described as the "War to End All Wars." It began in July 1914 and lasted until November 1918. America did not enter the war until 1917. By the end, over seventy million soldiers had taken part in the fighting. Records tell us nine million in combat died, along with seven million civilians.

Near the end of the fighting, another enemy entered the war and began killing more than all the bombs or bullets fired during the four year war. History remembers it as the Spanish Flu. It spread from staging and hospital camps in France. The camps were home to chickens and pigs brought in to feed the soldiers. Scientists have discovered that the flu evolved from animal to birds, and eventually into man.

The conditions in France allowed the flu to spread like wild fire. The first known world pandemic lasted from January 1918 to December 1920. Worldwide it affected over 500 million people, killing an estimated 100 million during a two year period. The Spanish flu was different in that it killed young healthy people. Between the war and the flu, untold millions died worldwide.

Article Photos

Photo provided by Chuck Clegg
Pictured are soldiers of WWI.

Some hypotheses believed the flu spread into France from soldiers traveling from Fort Riley, Kansas. A cook on the base was the first reported case in America. Shortly thereafter over 500 men reported sick. It did not take long for the flu to spread across the country along routes soldiers were traveling. Later, reports have discovered about the same time a similar deadly flu was reported in China. It is known the flu evolved over a short period of time making it far more deadly than originally believed. The 1918 flu spread into Spain during the war where it became even more virulent. Spain was not involved in the fighting in France and had not entered the war. Censorship in France limited news reports of the disease among the soldiers. But in Spain, no such restraints were placed on the news of the spreading disease. Spain announcing to the world of the disease lead to the flu being known as the Spanish Flu.

Today, we remember the war's end by the day we celebrate as Veterans Day, November 11th. Other countries call it Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. The fighting ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The stories of the Great War now only lives in the pages of books. We no longer can look to those persons who experienced the war, as they have also passed into history. In 2011, Frank Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia passed away at the age of 110. He was the last surviving US Army soldier to have taken part in the war.

The war was unique in the fact that it touched so many countries all around the globe, hence the title of World War. The introduction of mechanized warfare brought new ways to advance destruction across the battle fields. Iron tanks and planes were first used during the war. New and terrible chemical weapons were developed and used to inflict mass casualties on the battle field. And perhaps the most hideous killer of all was the Spanish Flu, it killed indiscriminately. Barbed wired barriers, land mined fields nor trench warfare could not stop the spread of the disease. A cough or sneeze spread the flu across the battle lines and eventually around the world.

You may be wondering why on the 100th Anniversary of the war's end have I written this story. A few years back I began taking pictures of the soldiers inside the glass case on the second floor of the courthouse. Looking upon the faces of soldiers who long ago went off to war, I believed it is important to remind you of our county's history. Pictured there are a few of the men and women who left their Wetzel County jobs and homes. At the old train depot, they said good-bye to family and friends before leaving for Europe. Perhaps when they posed for the picture they could not have known the challenges that lay ahead of them in the war. Some young faces wore smiles of innocence. Others appeared stone faced, as if they had a premonition of what lie ahead of them across the ocean.

The war not only affected those who went off to fight, but those left at home wondering about their loved ones. In one picture, the ladies of the community formed an Aid Society. They understood the importance of helping families of soldiers who were away. Today, if a soldier is injured or killed the news is conveyed to their families quickly. But in 1918, families waited weeks for a mud stained letter to arrive telling of their loved one's situation. Even worse, it may take days, if not weeks, for the dreaded telegram to arrive, telling the family the news of their husband, son, or father. Today we cannot imagine the terribleness of not knowing the fate of a family member. Can you imagine receiving the telegram telling of a loved one's death? Then, two weeks later, a letter from them arrives. It was written before they were killed.

Those who are listed as Missing in Action or Prisoners of War from World War I were combined. That combined number is over 7000. The total numbers and the fate of those lost is known only to God.

The fact that many of our county's past citizens served in the long ago war is the reason on this Sunday we should remember their past sacrifices. The pictures I have placed alongside this story are but a few on display on the second floor of the courthouse. The next time you are there, take a few moments to pay honor to those men and women who are frozen in time behind the glass of the memorial. Some of the pictures were given to me a few years back when I gave a Veterans Day presentation at the college. Those pictures cover all the wars back to the Civil War. I ask that you visit the Memorial Wall next to the American Legion and view the names of those who are inscribed there. Remember their service to our country in both time of peace and in war. The names are part of the many millions of Americans who helped to secure our country and it freedoms. I hope you will join me as I pay honor to all American Veterans, Through the Lens.



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