by Rick Winterson
The century mark of America’s Veterans Day holiday approaches rapidly. On this Friday morning, November 11, in this Year of Our Lord 2016, the 98th Anniversary of the cessation of “The War to End All Wars” will occur.
Of course, this is well-known history, but it bears repeating: The original World War I Holiday was called “Armistice Day”. It was a celebration of the end of that war – “The War to End All Wars” – the first war known as a World War. While it is still observed as Armistice Day (or Remembrance Day) in many other nations, Armistice Day became Veterans Day in America in 1954 during the Eisenhower administration. Its purpose: To honor the service of all veterans.
You may well ask why World War I got the name of “The War to End All Wars”. There are many important reasons – gas warfare, the machine gun (a.k.a. the Gatling or mitrailleuse), Germany’s use of the first tanks, the static “no-one-can-move” nature of trench warfare, and so on. Key borders didn’t change very much; no one really won World War I.
But more horrifying than anything else to the world at that time was the carnage. Approximately 18 million (18,000,000) people died as a result of World War I, a huge number of casualties in the 1918 world of 1+ billion souls. And even more sadly, for the first time in Europe, roughly half of those deaths were civilian deaths, including a million children. The exciting myths of swordplay, cavalry charges, hand-to-hand combat, and heroism on the field of battle had evaporated. American General William Sherman said after our own Civil War, “War is Hell!” He spoke truthfully. Except for the joyful homecoming of our combat veterans in 1918-1919, there really wasn’t much of anything to celebrate about World War I. And to add insult to (major) injury, the so-called Spanish flu pandemic hit its peak just as World War I ended.
So it is entirely fitting that we honor our military veterans – all of them – on November 11. They have earned that recognition many times over. Think about that tomorrow as the 98th Anniversary moment of Armistice/Veterans Day passes at exactly 11 a.m., November 11 – the 11th day of the eleventh month of 1918. You’ll get a “vibe” – a prickling of the hairs on your neck – when you do.
PVT. JOHN E. STEINER:
On Thursday, November 10, 2011, South Boston Online published a military biography of Private John E. Steiner, a World War I veteran and the pater familias/great-grandfather of South Boston’s Steiner family. Pvt. Steiner was a member of the 26th Regiment of the First Infantry Division – a true doughboy, in other words. He signed up in April, 1918, and after basic training, he served five months in France.
He fought in the key battles that ended WWI – Ste. Mihiel, Saizerais-Lorraine-Ansauville, and the most decisive of all, Meuse-Argonne. He was badly wounded, a bullet costing him his right eye; he was mustard-gassed as well, which damaged his lungs. In the First Infantry, he had served with American soldier-heroes, some of whom bore Boston Brahmin names such as Amory and Ridgely. Pvt. Steiner himself died in 1929 at the early age of 38, partly because of the serious wounds he had sustained over five short months of combat in “The War to End All Wars.”
South Boston Online, as the 100th Anniversary of Armistice/Veterans Day approaches on November 11, 2018, would be extremely interested in writing articles about other participants in the events of those times – especially if they were from South Boston and fought in World War I. We may well update you on him, and even reprint our article on Pvt. John E. Steiner, a local hero if there ever was one.
SOME AIMS AT SOUTH BOSTON ONLINE:
There’s an even two years to go before the Armistice/Veterans Day Centennial arrives. What would you, the reader, think about a World War I Memorial located somewhere in South Boston? What would you think about properly mounting and enshrining that mighty but somewhat woebegone anchor on the eroded concrete plinth in Marine Park? Everything to be solemnly dedicated on Sunday morning, November 11, 2018, at 11 a.m.
And then there’s the actual history of South Boston and its people. We are known as a town of veterans (read “heroes”, like Medal of Honor recipient Mickey Perkins, who died in combat during the last few days of World War I). There are stories out there about “The War to End All Wars”; it would be really regrettable if these were forgotten. And if you are a newcomer to South Boston, no matter. South Boston Online would be pleased to write up any World War I stories you can give us.
Please get in touch with South Boston Online. Join us in observing some kind of centennial activities leading up to the 100th Armistice/Veterans Day, because it certainly has been a war-torn century since World War I. In George Santayana’s words, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Is that happening to us?
So never forget!