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Carlisle Barracks commemorates the end of World War I

By JOE CRESS | The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa. | Published: November 10, 2018

CARLISLE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Barban had been destroyed in the fight to capture the St. Mihiel section of France.

First Lt. Clair Grover walked across the scarred landscape with other men of the 313th Regiment, 79th Infantry Division of the American Expeditionary Force.

It was the last hour in the “War to End All Wars” and the soldiers were uneasy. The Germans, being very familiar with the ground, had marked nearly every location for artillery fire.

“In this holocaust, men walked among the dead, drank from the canteens of the dead and marched along singing songs to the dead,” Grover wrote in his diary. “’Dead’ was what you knew and what you anticipated.”

Words jotted down a century ago rang true Friday afternoon when the public and the Carlisle Barracks community converged on the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

They had gathered for “When the Guns Fell Silent,” a commemoration marking the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.

“On the Western Front … rumors of armistice and possible peace were trickling down to the soldiers, nurses, airmen and support troops on the sharp edge of the fighting,” said Michael Lynch, senior historian at AHEC.

Lynch was setting the stage for the reading of eyewitness accounts from soldiers who survived the final moments of their generation’s most terrible war. Soldiers like Grover and his unit that remained in the thick of combat right up to the end, suffering casualties up to the end.

A research archives, AHEC holds thousands of soldiers’ stories from World War I covering every aspect from the home front to the front line. The collection includes the diary of Clair Grover.

His orders that first Armistice Day were to press on the attack until the appointed hour of peace. “At 11, our lines will halt in pace and no man will move one step forward or backward,” Grover recalled. “All men will cease firing and dig in.”

As Lynch read, the listener was transported to a stretch of French countryside torn apart by four years of war. “The first rifle ceased. Then the machines guns slowed down their fire and finally ceased. Then the cannons slowed their fire and finally ceased. It seemed as though each gun was trying to fire the last shot of the war.”

Grover was witness to one final sacrifice. At 11 a.m., an Army private named Gunther rushed a German machine gun emplacement, but was shot and killed.

“It was the last shot fired and Gunther was the last man killed in the war,” Grover wrote. “Then came the silence. It was so deep, almost oppressive.”

The vivid account made an impression upon Army Lt. Col. Brian Gerber, a field artillery officer and Army War College student. He praised AHEC staff for reaching deep into the archival holdings for a story with impact.

“You can make the case World War I is the last big war where we have no living survivors,” Gerber said. “It is our responsibility to remain committed to veterans. Just because they are all gone doesn’t mean that we can forget and stop that commitment to their legacy.”

Trey Jackson of Cornwall, Lebanon County, traveled to attend the ceremony and to interact with World War I re-enactors in uniform who had equipment and weapons displays. That one-on-one contact brought the war to life for Jackson more than any book, video or online article.

“It is important to remember the sacrifice that millions upon millions of soldiers and civilians made for their beliefs,” Jackson said. His grandfather served as a sailor in the US Navy during World War I, most of the time on battleships cruising up and down the East Coast to guard against the German High Seas Fleet.

For Karl Robinson, Friday’s trip to AHEC was just part of an annual tour he offers to students of the Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School. A retired Army officer and school teacher, Robinson served as the director of the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College from 1988 to 1992.

His annual tour takes students to the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery where Indian School students are buried along with the Hessian Powder Museum on the installation. The tour also includes a walk on the Army Heritage Trail followed by a visit to the museum galleries of the main AHEC building.

“This was just happenstance,” Robinson said referring to their attendance at the commemoration. “We just happened to be here today.”

World War I was an important part of the history of not just the US but Europe, Robinson said. And yet it has been largely forgotten by the American people and few memorials exist to the Americans who fought in the conflict.

“We went very quickly from World War I into the Roaring ‘20s into the Great Depression,” Robinson said. “There was not a whole lot of time for people to sit around and talk about World War I. There was other crises afoot that soaked up everyone’s attention.”

Robinson would wager most Americans would have trouble answering the most basic question on when the war took place, let alone details like who was fighting and why.

Eric Bivens of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, was a re-enactor Friday representing a typical US Army infantryman. He said that World War I is remembered more in Europe, especially in Britain.

“It left a huge impact and impression on that generation,” Bivens said. He said the sheer enormity of the events of World War II overshadowed the impact and memories of World War I, at least in the mindset of most Americans.

Yet the groundwork for World War II came out of the unresolved hatred and hurt of World War I, Bivens said. “It was still a huge sacrifice. It should not be forgotten.”

Re-enactor Don Hongell of Frederick, Maryland, represented the typical German infantryman of 1918. He said World War I brought on the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire and the Russian Empire.

“It broke up a lot of Europe,” Hongell said. World War I also ended the Ottoman Empire that governed much of the present-day Middle East, he said. To the victors — Britain and France — went the spoils of carving up that region into countries without taking into consideration the culture and the history of the people living there.

As a result, this drawing of the map has led to conflict that continues to this day in the Middle East, Hongell said.

©2018 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.)
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