So I gotta say, its kinda weird to be giving a WW1 history lesson during church. But I didn’t have much of a choice. Someone does not accept a NO answer…!
WW1 has been oddly forgotten over the years. Nobody knows about WW1. There is no WWI Memorial in Washington DC. The only war without a memorial. Most towns have no WW1 memorial. Williamsville and Elkhart are unique. We gave more than many towns and our Arch and the Elkhart doughboy are rare tributes.
So today at 11:00 is the end of WW1. The war ended on the 11th hour, or the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918. November 11, 1918. Now called Veterans Day. Thousands of churches all over the country will ring their bells. We will participate.
The war started on June 28, 1914 when the Austrian empire declared war on Serbia. In 1914, many countries were monarchies. Kings and Queens. Most of them related. Within two months, 30 of these cousins, uncles, nieces had declared war on each other. The war was raging by August.
Worldwide, 67 million men put on uniforms to fight in WWI. Appallingly, one in every 6 of these men was killed (11 million). Of the remainder, approximately half were wounded. Nearly all suffered some sort of mental impacts. Very few soldiers in the front lines came though the war unscathed. It remains the worse mortality rates in any war.
Started as a mobile war. Great armies on horse, colorful uniforms, bright flags, cavalry charges, lances. Napoleonic tactics.
But industrial revolution technology soon changed the war. Machine guns, tanks, airplanes, flame throwers, artillery, submarines, gas…forced the armies to dig trenches and face each other on a narrow front.
By 1915, trenches ran 500 miles from the North Sea to Switzerland. These trenches were horrible– dead bodies, rats, sewage, gas, standing in water.
Over-and-over again, both sides climbed out of the trenches and tried to push through the enemy trenches. Desperate frontal attacks. Horrific battles of 1916 and 1917 had ruined both armies: Verdun Somme, Ypres, Chamin de Dames. Each costing 1 million men for absolutely no gain. More casualties in one battle than ALL casualties the US has had in all our wars combined. The British lost 60,000 in one hour on the morning on July 1, 1916. Today, it’s not uncommon to find bones.
By 1918 the French and British were losing the war. Over 9 million men had been killed. 90% casualty rates in many regiments. They were desperate for the US to join.
Our army was one of the smallest in the world. We only had an army of 180,000. Our army was smaller than Portugal’s army. We had no air planes, tanks, or machine guns.
It was a national effort to build an army. Not just men, but equipment…millions of caps, belts, underwear, packs, rifles, helmets….By June 1918 – 3.5 million. To historians the fact we did this remains astounding!
Illinois provided about 10% of the national total. IL, NY, and PN provided the most.
The Germans knew the US was building this massive army and in early 1918, they made an effort to win the war before the US arrived in force. A huge offensive, pushing the French back to the edge of Paris. US troops arrived just in time to push them back (Belleau Woods ..Tom) and remains the Marine Corps’ most costly battle. The Germans called them Devil Dogs.
Williamsville’s first casualty Abraham Bock died pushing the Germans back in August 1918.
On September 26, the largest battle in US history happened. Exactly 100 years ago. To this day, more men and equipment than any battle in US history. Artillery pieces fired 4.5 million shells (more than the entire Civil War). Remain the US’ most costly battle in terms of dollars and men. 26, 277 killed. 95,785 wounded. More than D-Day, Pearl Harbor, and Gettysburg combined. D-Day every 4 days for 5 weeks. Young participants: George W. Patton, Harry S Truman, Douglas MacArthur and a young German corporal named Adolph Hitler all fought here.
The Germans had defended this area for 4 years with trenches and wire, interlacing pillboxes, every inch registered with artillery. The French had lost nearly a million men trying to take this area. They considered it impregnatable.
Our boys from Illinois played a major part in this battle. Twice we were ordered to cross rivers and attack a mile uphill across open fields to take well emplaced Germans. Rivals anything you would see at D Day beaches. A superhuman effort. The 33rd (Illinois Division) was in continuous fire day and night for over a month. Boys from our areas were in the thick of it.
Today, the nation’s largest overseas war cemetery is in the Meuse Argonne. Over 14,000 graves of soldier who died in just one battle. It is also the least visited US military cemetery. It sits empty. I’ve been there many times and I’ve never seen another person. Pauline and I were there a few months ago…we were alone except for the French grounds crews. It is haunting.
On the last morning of the war, the Illinois boys were again ordered to attack a well defended German position. One of the most costly days for our troops. A boy from Elkhart named Hillary Davis was in Company C of the 124 MGB (same company of many W’Ville boys) of the 33rd. He was officially a bugler, but during battle, bugler often served as stretcher bearers. When his friends were mowed down, Private Davis left the safety of the trenches several times and ran into no mans land under heavy shelling, gas, and machine gun fire to carry wounded soldiers back into the American trenches. He was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor. But he was awarded The Distinguished Service Cross
On the home front, we gave as well. In 1918, Williamsville had a population of 650. Nearly 25% spoke German as their primary language. They were immigrants.
The village women knitted thousands of sweaters, glove, socks and caps for the boys. We had Red Cross drives. We sent 58 boys off to war.
Williamsville was changing.
April 1914 – Our first electricity was turned on in 60 buildings.
October 1915 – Our first concrete road. First auto fatality the next day on that road.
June 1916 – 20 electric street lights.
March 15, 1918 – Red Cross Society holds biggest sale in the entire country! Net proceeds of $2,523.69. One quilt alone brings $550 (Dorothy)! Williamsville celebrates over subscribing of Liberty Bonds.
November 1918 – Victory parade extends 6 blocks long and new steel flag poles
In October 1919 – Great home coming for returned WW1 Vets. Arch dedicated. Hillary Davis honored. 2,000 people attend.
WWI transformed the United Stated into the largest military power in the world. Williamsville gave a lot to this effort.
Many soldiers carried a prayer book. Psalm 91 was a favorite in WW1. Pastor reads:
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge-
10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”