November 11 is Veterans Day and it will also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
My first job after graduating from college in 2001 was working in a U.S. Congressional district office in South Mississippi. I helped out with veterans issues. The Naval Home in Gulfport still had a couple of World War I veterans living there. Mostly confined to his bed, we use to call over and chat with one from time to time. My biggest regret was that I never personally went over there to visit with him, although I’m sure the Congressman and a few others on the staff did. It seemed a little eerie that a few World War I veterans were still with us given that the media was just starting to highlight all the World War II veterans we were losing every week. A World War I veteran seemed so antiquated or otherworldly. Remarkably, the last doughboy to die was Frank Buckles in West Virginia in 2011.
When I moved to North Carolina in 2015, I started reading up on the legendary U.S. Senator Sam Ervin. Mostly because he is described by some as a champion of the Constitution and I thought some of his views deserved more of my attention. But I was also very interested in Ervin’s World War I service. Ervin experienced a lot of death and destruction and it had a profound impact on his life. A biographer noted how he often had trouble sleeping and would pace the halls at night after his combat experience.
There is a great book on the Battle of Cantigny titled “First Over There” by Matthew J. Davenport. The author practices law in Eastern North Carolina and teaches at East Carolina University. North Carolinians Sam Ervin and Samuel “Si” Parker were prominently featured in the account on the first major combat operations by the doughboys in Europe. Parker is a recipient of the Medal of Honor, one of two that were awarded to North Carolinians during the Great War. Parker, in fact, is one of the most decorated American soldiers of the war. Ervin himself was the recipient of several medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit the World War I exhibit at the North Carolina History Museum in Raleigh it’s definitely a must-see. Over 86,000 North Carolinians fought in the war that was supposed to end all wars. Unfortunately, because of the next world war, many World War I veterans were quickly overshadowed or forgotten. While the war was seen as ultimately ineffective to secure peace, the vast majority of Americans who fought were extremely proud of their service. There is a great statue commemorating the common World War I soldier in Charlotte.
If you are ever in Europe, you can visit the many cemeteries and memorials of Americans who were buried abroad fighting in two world wars. Around 130,000 Americans servicemen have been buried abroad, most of them in Europe. The Meuse-Argonne Cemetary in France has over 14,000 Americans buried there from World War I alone. It’s a testament to the character of our great nation and veterans that our country has so many buried on foreign lands who fell not as conquerors but liberators.
Happy Veterans Day!