Memories of First World War have rapidly faded away
It was once called, rather ironically, “the war to end war.”
A scant mention appeared last month of the 100th anniversary of the spark that led to the start of World War I. After the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, most of the countries of Europe quickly took one side or the other, as if for some hellish pickup football game.
On July 28, 1914, with the “teams” chosen, more than four years of carnage began in earnest.
The upcoming anniversary will likely not generate much in the way of interest – the last person to serve in that horrible war died a few years ago, and, well, our modern wars occupy most of our attention today.
Europe was enveloped in war for three years before the U.S. joined in starting in late 1917. The Inland Empire sent hundreds of its young men to the battlefields in Europe. Several dozen made the supreme sacrifice.
There was one insidious enemy of this conflict that neither side could defeat. The so-called Spanish flu, a pandemic that killed more than 50 million people worldwide from 1918 to 1920, victimizing soldiers herded together in close quarters during training or on troop ships,
As an example, of the 21 Ontario soldiers who died while in uniform during the war, eight fell victim of the influenza epidemic before they anywhere near the trenches of wartime France.
The Oct. 8, 1918 edition of San Bernardino Daily Sun noted that Leonard H. Armstrong of San Bernardino became the first soldier from that city to fall on the battlefield, but he was not the first to die in uniform. Earlier, Burt Heap died when the transport Mt. Vernon was torpedoed and sank, while Alan Shedden and Louis Bellotine died in military hospitals from the flu.
The stories of other local soldiers are many:
• Capt. Charles Palmer Rowe of Pomona left with his National Guard unit in 1918 but was transferred to the 372nd Infantry, one of the first black U.S. units in combat. The unit operated under French officers, apparently because the Army didn’t want American black soldiers fighting alongside whites. Rowe, who was white, was wounded in late September and died only weeks before war’s end.
• Clyde Roosevelt, first member of the Mojave tribe in Needles to join the military, only made it as far as Camp Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. There he was stricken by the flu and died in late October 1918. Near Needles, his remains were burned in a special Native American ceremony. “Clyde Roosevelt, like the old-time warriors, goes to help but to fight the new way. He did his best,” said chieftan Mech-Chew-Many, during the cremation ceremony.
• Ontario’s Ralph T. Kingery, 26, had the dubious distinction of being the first Californian killed after the U.S. formally entered the war. (Others had died serving in British units before the American entry into the fighting). He died near Ansauville, France. in February 1918 with the First Infantry Division. Kingery’s body was finally returned home in June 1921 and more than 1,000 attended his memorial service at Ontario City Hall.
• The San Bernardino Sun-Telegram reported on June 2, 1939 that 90-year-old World War I veteran Jesse Inman had died in Glendale. A San Bernardino resident for a number of years, he was remembered for trying to enlist in 1917 claiming to be 44 -- he was actually 68. After several rejections, he did manage to get into the Navy, working as a blacksmith and an instructor before he was permanently disabled by a bad fall.
• Louis Gooding, who lived in Ontario for many years, was one of a group of Choctaw-speaking Indians who helped thwart the Germans stealing information by tapping combat telephones in 1918. He and others relayed strategic information in their native tongue that provided key during the battles at St. Etienne and Forest Ferme in the last months of the war. Other Indians were similarly used during World War II in the Pacific as shown in the 2002 movie, “Windtalkers.”
The deeds of these men and others like them have mostly faded away. Unfortunately, the monuments put up in their honor haven’t fared much better.
In Pomona’s Garfield Park is a 1923 statue of the goddess Pomona handing a sword to a young man sending him out to battle the enemies of peace. On the 16-foot statue, Pomona’s sword was removed by vandals some time ago, and efforts to replace it have stalled. There is a plaque at its base listing the names of those soldiers who died from Pomona as well as Claremont, Covina, Puente, La Verne and Azusa. But it’s a real chore to read the list because of the dense array of rose bushes mostly obscuring it.
At E and 6th streets in San Bernardino’s Pioneer Park is a towering monument to those who fought in many of America’s early wars, though it was dedicated in 1916 before our entry into World War I. On an adjacent stone is a place for two plaques, one honors those who fought in World War I, while an adjacent plaque is missing, probably listing the names of the 16 from San Bernardino who died in what never turned out to be “the war to end wars.”