Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

Words that bring a chill to anyone who studies history… 9,000,000 overall war dead, 21,000,000 wounded, 117,000 Americans dead and 5,700,000 civilians estimated dead…

At 5 a.m. that morning, November 11th, 1918, Germany, out of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiégne, France. The decision was made to hold the notification of the signing until 1100 to provide the symmetry that we know today.

It all started on June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

It led to trench warfare, biowarfare, with the gassing of troops on both sides, and battles across Europe and the Mediterranean, including the infamous Battle of Gallipoli, searing that name for every in the history of Australia and New Zealand, HERE.

Germany, France, Britain, and other countries lost pretty much an entire generation of young men, and scars from WWI still mar the landscape in Europe. Supposedly the war to end all wars, sadly became merely a prelude to WWII, around 20 years later.

My dad served in WWI as a rifle and pistol instructor at Camp Beauregard in Louisiana, because he was an expert with rifle and pistols prior to joining the Army. He also suffered from Influenza during the time, and that may have contributed to his early death in 1959.

The first unknowns were selected from among the British, French, and American war dead.

Following the custom inaugurated by other allied countries in World War I the Congress on March 4, 1921, approved a Resolution providing for the burial in Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater on Armistice Day 1921 of an unknown and unidentified American soldier of World War I. The Secretary of War delegated to the Quartermaster Corps the duty of selecting the Unknown Soldier and accordingly the Quartermaster General directed the Chief, American Graves Registration Service in Europe to select from among the burials of America’s Unknown Dead the bodies of four who fell in the combat area in order that one from among them could be anonymously designated as the one for burial in accordance with the provisions of the Resolution. Four bodies of Unknown Soldiers were selected, one from each of the following cemeteries Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel–and brought to Chalons where they were placed in the Hotel de Ville. The fact that the bodies selected were those of Americans was determined by the location of place of death, original burial and uniforms. The utmost care was taken to see that there was no evidence of identification on the bodies selected and no indication that their identity could ever be established.

After the four bodies were arranged in the Hotel de Ville, the next step was the matter of selecting the one from among them to represent all the Unknown American Dead. This ceremony though simple was most impressive. In view of his outstanding service,  Sergeant Edward Younger, on duty with the American Forces in Germany, was given the honor of making the final selection. On Monday morning, October 24, 1921, at 10 :00 A.M. in the presence of The Quartermaster General, the Commanding General of the American Forces in Germany, the Mayor of Chalons-sur-Marne, high officers of the French Army, distinguished French citizens and eminent American and French civilians the selection was made. While a French military band played an appropriate air, Sergeant Younger slowly entered the room where the four caskets were placed. Passing between two lines formed by the officials he silently advanced to the caskets, circled them three times and placed a spray of white roses on the third casket from the left. He then faced the body, stood at attention, and saluted. He was immediately followed by officers of the French Army who saluted in the name of the French people.

The rest of that story is HERE.

TODAY is the day to thank those veterans, and say a prayer for those currently serving in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. To my fellow veterans, I would propose the toast, “Absent Comrades.”

And to the families- No one says thank you for your sacrifice. So let me say thank you to all of the significant others that hold the fort down while we go on long deployments. Thank you for putting up with all the moves. Thanks to all of the dependents who step up and do the extra chores around the house. When the veteran is deployed the budget has to be stretched. The significant other becomes the banker. Thanks to all of the families that hope for only good news. Thank you families for your service.

And to my shipmates in the P-3 all those years, and those onstation today…


Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month… — 17 Comments

  1. Did not know how the Unknown Soldier came to be, a solid choice for today. A lot to remember again this year.

  2. As others said, thank you for the story of the Unknown Soldier. People today, in this modern world of instant DNA (brought to us by the horrors of 9-11 and the military’s push to identify Vietnam dead – a truly dark but fascinating story in itself) have forgotten about the lost bodies, the lost soldiers, sailors and airmen.

    We, the people of the United States, don’t understand the concept and the horror behind the ossuaries at many of the major battlefields in France. We are used to seeing fields of headstones, and can’t understand places like Verdun, where the dead (mostly bones at the time) were piled into death houses because there really was no room for individual graves, and really no way to differentiate between one body and another.

    Let us hope we never have to see such carnal houses here on our fair lands.

    Thank you, OldNFO, and all of you vets out there for your service. So many of your compatriots were lost in ‘peace-time,’ but I am glad that you all survived.

  3. Hey Old NFO;

    WWI the war to end all wars, but it had the seeds of the second war embedded. I remember reading that the USS Olympia, Admiral Dewey’s ship carried the remains back. And I raise my glass of water since I am at work to absent comrades…I use a German phrase “Ich habt einer kamaraden gehabt, doh gibt keine bessern. Loosely translated “I had a comrade, there were none better”.

  4. Thank you for your years of service. And thank you for acknowledging the families, as well.

  5. While appreciative of the pomp and ceremonies on behalf of veterans past and present, IMO the best tribute is trying to live a decent life in the place their sacrifices made possible.

  6. Great grandpa raised me with stories from his childhood (Indians, bears, cougars, porcupines, skunks) and the Great War. I don’t remember those stories clearly any more, but they all ended with either “and then he died” or “and then we marched them over the hill and shot them.”

    A hundred years just doesn’t seem like so long ago now.

  7. Interesting history. I’m currently in Paris in an apartment behind Notre Dame. At 1100 hours, all the bells were ringing.The Europeans really did this day up in style.