(Click on any image to ENLARGE it)
My grandmother’s German blood passed through my Dad and runs through me and my kids and grandkids. She was a Hess. In WWI three of her brothers, Charlie, Joe and Fred, all second-generation German-Americans, fought the Kaiser’s Army in France – even though residents of their hometown, Bucyrus, Ohio were split in their loyalty between the Allied Cause and the Fatherland.
These doughboys, like most men who have experienced the
horrors of war firsthand, rarely talked about their experiences, except for
light-hearted stories of escapades in the French countryside or uncomplimentary
references to some of their French counterparts.
[WWI Army Private]
I had the pleasure, as a little kid, of knowing my Dad’s uncles.
Charlie was a fine cellist, and he became a successful entrepreneur. He returned from the War and went into business with a rooming house that catered to the railroad workers, a small grocery store and a cigar store-poolroom-beer parlor.
Joe, who almost died of pneumonia in France, returned to support himself playing boogie-woogie piano in bars and playing poker in backrooms. Later he became a successful commercial painting contractor and semi-retired to Florida at the age of 45.
Fred owned a nightclub in Caldonia, Ohio that featured dancing and backroom gambling. Fred, the youngest of the brother vets, following amputation of a leg, died of complications from diabetes at 45. The onset of the disease was believed to have stemmed from long hours without sleep and irregular and insufficient nutrition during the War in France where he was stuck behind the wheel of a truck for days at a time.
I still remember how almost everyone I knew would take two
minutes of silence at 11:00 A.M. on
Armistice Day as a sign of respect to those who served and especially those who
gave their lives in “The Great War” – as we called it even then, in the midst
of WWII. When my mom would take me with her shopping, it seemed there was always an old vet or a volunteer on the streets taking donations for red papier-mache poppies. I always had a poppy pinned to my coat as she dragged me through the streets and stores in Downtown Wilmington or Dayton, Ohio.
Armistice Day is the anniversary of the official end of World War I, November 11, 1918. It commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning — the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."
Thus ended the “War to End All Wars”, the popular sentiment that carried Americans through the next World War and Korea to 1953, when a ceremony in Kansas was dubbed a Veterans Day celebration. It caught on.
These days we mark November 11 as “Veterans Day” to include all of America’s
veterans in the traditional day of tribute. I’ll take a few moments to look at
the postcard-photos of the Hess brothers, mailed from the front, meeting their
eyes as the doughboys peer from below the brims of their campaign hats, looking
comfortable, somehow, in those itchy-scratchy wool uniforms.
As this is being written, there are few Americans among the vets who could tell you of the day when they heard that the Armistice was signed, when so many of them arose tentatively from their trenches, leaving their weapons, as they observed the German soldiers doing the same, each army watching in awe before giving way, at last, to uncontrolled glee. The number of American WWI vets who survive is variously reported as 14-17, including a 109-year-old woman. The oldest, living in Puerto Rico, is 115 years old. This Veterans Day, let’s remember to salute the doughboys, Saturday…