This past week has been a contemplative one for me. This Veterans Day, on November 11th, marked 100 years since the ending of World War I. It was known as ‘The Great War’ or ‘The War to End All Wars’—which was the hope and belief of people around the world living through those uncertain times. Unfortunately, as we all know looking back over the last 100 years, it was not. But there is still that hope for what the next 100 years will bring.
My grandfather, Emmett Quinn, was in France on his way to the front when the armistice was signed. His departure had been delayed by a 17-day stay at a hospital on Long Island. After basic training near San Diego in late July and early August of 1918, his company traveled by train across country. At the Great Salt Lake, and again at Lake Erie, everyone had been ordered into the water—in lieu of a bath, I suppose. But by the time they reached Chicago, my grandfather was starting to get sick and soon after reaching the camp in New York, he was confined to the hospital while the rest of his company was shipped out to Europe.
That hospital stay probably saved my grandfather’s life, as nearly his entire company perished in the trenches overseas. And when he finally arrived in Le Havre in France on September 18 with the 327th Machine Gun Battalion Company B 84th Division (he was later assigned to the Company B 111th Machine Gun Battalion 29th Division) they were told to prepare for combat and spent almost seven weeks marching and drilling. Grandpa got sick again for about two of those weeks, but determinedly avoided going to the hospital because so many were dying there. He was quite discouraged during this time, wondering if he’d ever return home while rumors of the war ending spread periodically through the camp.
Then, on the 6th of November, he was told to pack up with another group leaving for the front. They traveled by truck and train and had nearly reached their destination on November 11th. The entry from my grandfather’s war journal read:
“Nov. 11, Monday 1918. Spent the day on train. Pretty cold. Armistice signed today. French having a great time. Flags everywhere. They are happy as can be and they are not alone.”
Grandpa once told me as they pulled into a station that day that a French lady was marching up and down the station platform yelling, “La guerre est finie! La guerre est finie!” (The war is over! The war is over!) Having studied French, my grandfather knew immediately what was being said and I can only imagine the emotions he’d felt in that moment. Truly, a happy day on both sides of the Atlantic.
One hundred years later, I hope we can take a moment from all the commotion that surrounds us to reflect on the countless sacrifices made on our behalf. In the U.S., November is a time for thanks giving, so let us remember to give thanks to our veterans, past and present, who are willing to give so much to maintain our freedom. God bless.