Honoring the doughboys on Veterans Day

Posted Saturday, Nov. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Veterans Day is the time to think about the men and women who have served in our armed forces and how we as a country honor them.

For now, focus on that group of American veterans who were called doughboys, the soldiers who fought in the First World War and laid down their weapons on Nov. 11, 1918.

In 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution commemorating Armistice Day, which read in part:

“[T]he 11th of November 1918 marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals … it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer … inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”

What do we as Americans even know about that First World War, the Great War, the War To End All Wars?

World War I dramatically altered nearly everything, yet we as Americans know next to nothing about it. The average citizen may recall something about poppies, “over there” or the Red Baron.

The historical significance of the First World War cannot be overstated. It reshaped the 20th century. Its ramifications are still being felt.

The rise of communism and its subsequent regimes and wars (Korea, Vietnam); World War II (some historians consider it a continuation of World War I) and the Holocaust (the first modern-day genocide was inflicted on the Armenians in the First World War, with the rest of the world casting a blind eye); the Cold War; and Middle East conflicts — all have roots in the Great War.

The year 2014 will mark 100 years since the war began.

Today, the indescribable carnage, historical importance and modern-day consequences of World War I are sadly glossed over in school classrooms and virtually ignored by news media.

The American Expeditionary Forces sent 43 divisions to Europe, an unprecedented number. About 4.8 million people from the U.S. served in the armed forces in the 19 months of our participation, of that total just over 2 million did so overseas.

U.S. casualties numbered well over 320,000 men.

How can we begin to understand current ethnic, religious and geopolitical conflicts without possessing knowledge about the years 1914 to 1918?

We’ve all seen the iconic 20th century war memorials in Washington, D.C.: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War. They help us reflect, learn and honor the sacrifices.

Do you remember the national World War I memorial? Of course not, because it doesn’t exist. Fortunately, steps are underway to correct that absence (please visit www.wwimemorial.org).

In this country and perhaps elsewhere, our involvement in World War I has been downplayed, disregarded and virtually ignored. Sadly, but inevitably, the men who served are now all gone.

There is no way to thank them — no honor flights, no Main Street parades with marching doughboys.

Now, the best way to honor them is to learn about their sacrifices — and remember.

The stories of the First World War must not be forgotten. Every veteran, both living and deceased, deserves to be honored.

We’ve met the “Greatest Generation.” Now let’s meet the generation that raised them.

Your father, grandfather or great-grandfather was not just an old man.

Chances are, he served in the Great War, which changed his life and changed the world.

Jennifer Rude Klett is a nonfiction freelance writer in Delafield, Wis.


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