The Great War

November 11, 2013 - 5:20 AM

Frank Buckles is dead.

He didn't die this week. He died in February 2011 at the age of 110.

Why do we care? Frank Buckles was the last living American veteran of World War I.

At the time, World War I was not known as World War I. It was known as "The Great War." We didn't know we were going to have to number world wars back then.

The shorthand for the beginning of The Great War is this (from PBS.org)

-- On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife are assassinated in Sarajevo.

-- One month later, on July 28, 1914 Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.

-- Three days later, on July 31, Russia mobilizes her armed forces.

-- A day after that, on August 1, Germany declared war on Russia.

-- On August 3, Germany declared war on France.

-- On August 4, Great Britain declared war on Germany.

-- On August 6 Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia.

-- On August 23, Japan declared war on Germany so it could seize German assets in the Far East.

It took less than two months from the day that Archduke Ferdinand was killed for the world to be completely engulfed in war.

It took until April 6, 1917 - nearly three years after Ferdinand was killed - for the United States to join the fight under the command of Major General John J. Pershing.

The Great War ended with the signing of an armistice on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918 - November 11.

Hence, Veteran's Day today.

The actual end of The Great War is marked by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. The harsh terms of Versailles, according to some, led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the beginning of World War II on September 1, 1939 - just 20 years later - with the German invasion of Poland.

The Great War was not that great. It was a horribly brutal engagement. According to Wikipedia.com there were over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded during the war. Of those killed 116,000, and about 205,000 wounded were Americans.

A year after the cessation of hostilities, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 of each year to be celebrated as Armistice Day. In 1921 Congress adopted legislation establishing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery to honor those soldiers, killed in action, whose remains had never been identified.

On June 1, 1954 the Congress changed the name of "Armistice Day" to "Veterans' Day" to honor not just the veterans of The Great War, but World War II and Korea as well.

As we know all too well, we have been involved in too many wars since Korea, so today honors the veterans of all of those conflicts, in all of those places, over all of those years.

Similarly, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was never officially named but originally was approved to honor the dead of The Great War. Additional memorials were added for the deceased of World War II and Vietnam.

With the advent of DNA technology, the Unknown Soldier in the Vietnam memorial was identified as First Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie in 1998. He was buried with full military honors in Jefferson National Cemetery, Missouri, near his hometown. The same cemetery as his father, bringing closure to his family.

Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen said in 1998: "It may be that forensic science has reached the point where there will be no other unknowns in any war."

Be better if human development reaches the point that there will be no other wars in which service members killed in action need to be identified.

Nevertheless, carved into the marble of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is this legend: "Here rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God."

Veterans' Day isn't as big a deal as it used to be when I was growing up. I actually remember when it was called "Armistice Day" even though I barely knew what the word "Day" meant, much less "Armistice."

Veterans' Day is not a Monday holiday. The symmetry of 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month has been preserved and it is always celebrated on November 11th.

Frank Buckles was a boy of 17 when The Great War ended. He lived another 93 years.

We honor his memory as we honor the memory and service of every man and woman who has participated in the defense of America, in peace and war, since April 19, 1775 when the American Minutemen clashed with the British Redcoats at Lexington and Concord.

Wars may not be "Great" but the men and women who fight them are.

On this day, God bless you all.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the CNN report on the death of Mr. Buckles; to the timeline of The Great War, to the number of casualties in the war and to the history of Veteran's Day. Also, to lighten the mood, a Mullfoto of my cat.