Ken Beaton: Unfortunately, history repeats!
Only a handful of Americans are alive today who remember Thursday, Sept. 26, 1918, the first day of the Belgium, British, French and U.S. troops attacking the entire Hindenburg Line, the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne.
What are the rules for civilians when a battle begins? First, gather all the women, children and seniors. Second, take food, water and as many essentials as you can carry or haul in a wagon pulled by one or more animals. Third, put as many miles, or kilometers, between you and the battle as possible. Don’t worry about the bullet with your name on it. Worry about the shrapnel that has everybody’s name on it.
Most people have viewed pictures taken after a battle of young soldiers, their lives cut short with their bodies in various positions littering the battlefield. The most difficult pictures to view are collateral damage. A picture of a mother’s last act of love. A failed attempt to protect herself and one or more of her children.
I was unsuccessful searching Google to discover how many civilians were collateral damage during the 47-day battle. On second thought, I’m glad I was unsuccessful. It’s horrible enough seeing a dead soldier in his teens. I don’t want to have my memory scarred from viewing collateral.
Consider this one example, from 2:30 to 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26, 1918, the Allies fired more artillery shells than the North and the South combined fired during the entire four years of the Civil War. The artillery shells cost a total of $180 million or a million dollars a minute in 1918!
During the 47-day battle, American forces had a total of 26,277 dead and 95,786 wounded, many scarred or disabled for life. The victims of chlorine gas died within years of the end of the war, damaged lungs.
Seven years ago, my wife and I took a World War II memorial tour through six European counties visiting battlefields and six cemeteries, five American and one German. Of the 26 American Battle Monument Cemeteries, the Meuse-Argonne is the largest with 14,245 American males and one American female, Marion G. Crandall. Marion taught high school French in Davenport, Iowa. She was 46 when she traveled to France in January 1918 to volunteer in a French hostel. She died when a German artillery shell hit the hostel on March 27, 1918. She was buried in a French cemetery and moved to the American cemetery at Meuse-Argonne.
If you would like to search for a relative/friend who’s buried in an American Battle Monuments Cemetery, go to https://www.abmc.gov/, enter your relative/friend’s last name and click on “Search.” Select the name from the list of names. After your search, go to the “home page” and click on “Our Services.” Scroll down to the fourth item, “Floral Decorations.” You’ll be emailed a florist’s name to order a floral arrangement for your relative. I would recommend using a debit card if the florist accepts debit cards.
Next, scroll down one to “Floral Decorating Photos” to have the superintendent take a picture of your flowers at the grave marker. Plan for enough time for the floral delivery and for the superintendent to take a photo and email it to you. Remember, France is nine hours ahead of our time zone. Plan head! Don’t wait until Saturday, Nov. 10, to order your flowers. Lack of planning on your part won’t be considered an emergency by the superintendent.
Whenever I visit one of the American Battle Monuments Cemeteries, I try to read as many grave markers as time will allow. At the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery I read grave markers of boys who served in the “Big Red One,” the First Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment and the Twenty-Ninth Division, “Let’s go,” 116th Infantry Regiment. Suddenly it occurred to me, the 16th and the 116th Regiments were assigned to hit Omaha Beach 25 1/2 years later, June 6, 1944, D-Day! So many GIs died and bled out before reaching the shore, the water turned red, “Bloody Omaha.”
The “Great War” from 1914 to 1918 was “the war to end all wars.” Twenty-one years later, the name changed to World War I. World War II began on Sept. 1, 1939, by a person who was an Austrian Army corporal in World War I. Adolf Hitler required each of the 5 million Germans in the German Army to sign a loyalty oath to him, not to Germany.
In 1960, I read a magazine article written by a German citizen. He asked the question, could another country repeat Germany’s behavior between 1933-1945? He wrote, “Yes, if you completely control the press, take away free speech, the right to protest and if anyone disagrees with the government — they are ‘removed.’”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.