On this date 94 years ago, millions of soldiers, Marines, and civilians in Europe lay down for a sleepless night.
On this date 94 years ago, millions of soldiers, Marines, and civilians in Europe lay down for a sleepless night. Everyone knew the end of The Great War was at hand, and the next day it ended. The War to End All Wars was over, but as history was to show, it did not live up to its name.
The war ended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. And, due to demographics and the passage of time, tomorrow on the 94th anniversary of peace again in Europe, not one person who served in the uniform of any army in the world is still alive.
When the Reichley family arrived on the Leavenworth scene in 1978, there were about 12 Doughboys left from The Great War. Since I like meeting and talking with veterans, I think I met all of them. I don't know when the last one died, but it was many years ago.
In 1979 I was the vice president and program chairman of the Fort Leavenworth Historical Society, and someone sent information that a staffer from the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City could come present a program.
I thought it would be neat to invite the surviving Doughboys to attend as special guests, so I tracked one down and asked that he invite those who could come. He said he'd be glad to.
The night before the program he called with a question. Fire away I said, and it was "Would it be OK if we all wore our American Legion caps tomorrow night?"
If you have to guess what my answer was, you don't know me very well. I think all of them had joined the Legion at its inception in Paris in 1919. One attendee at the first convention was the most famous enlisted soldier of the entire war, Sgt. Alvin York. I never got to meet that hero, but have met both his surviving sons when they visited the National WW I Museum in Kansas City.
Back to the historical society meeting. The Old Boys showed up in a van, driven by one who could still drive at night. All were asked to introduce themselves, which they did. As I recall eight of them came that night. It made their month, and the audience loved it.
The headquarters of the VFW in Kansas City produced a most interesting reprint from an article in the VFW Magazine in 2004 that listed prominent Americans in later life who served in WW I. All were unknown at the time, but became quite well known later in their lives.
First listed was Capt. Harry S. Truman of Independence, Mo. If you haven't heard of him shame on you. Another was Robert McCormick, a colonel in the 1st Infantry Division who became publisher of the Chicago Tribune, the largest circulation paper in the Midwest and world leader in ad revenues. He founded the 1st Infantry Division Museum near Chicago. It's free, and worth a trip.
Edwin Hubble was a major in an infantry division who became the greatest astronomer of the 20th century, giving his name to a space telescope still used today.
Dewitt Wallace was a sergeant in an infantry regiment of the 35th Infantry Division, still a National Guard division and stationed in Leavenworth. He founded the Readers Digest, the world's most widely circulated magazine.
Hamilton Fish was an infantry captain in an all-black unit who later was a U.S. congressman from New York for 24 years who championed civil rights. Walter Brennan was a Doughboy in a field artillery unit who won three academy awards as best supporting actor and has been called the most successful actor of American sound films.
There were others mentioned, but I'll end with Daniel Gerber, an infantry sergeant who served in every major battle American troops served in. He founded Gerber Products, the firm that sold 60 percent of all baby foods in history.
To learn more about WW I, visit the National WW I Museum in Kansas City.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.