By Franklin Fisher (Benning)November 14, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Nov. 14, 2018) -- The Army at Fort Benning observed Veterans Day with a parade ground ceremony Nov. 11, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, a devastating global conflict that claimed millions of lives, including those of more than 116,000 U.S. servicemembers.
The observance, at the National Infantry Museum, was termed a "World War I Armistice Day Service of Remembrance" and was co-hosted by the Museum and Fort Benning's Maneuver Center of Excellence.
World War I began in July 1914 and ended under an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918. To the generation that endured it, it was also called "The Great War" and "The war to end all wars."
The ceremony, on the Museum's Inouye Field, went forward in cold morning air under pale blue skies streaked with long strands of clouds.
In the bleachers at the foot of the parade ground sat several hundred spectators, mostly civilians, including military veterans and Family members and some active-duty Soldiers.
The audience heard brief welcoming remarks by retired Brig. Gen. Peter L. Jones, president and chief operating officer of the National Infantry Museum Foundation.
"Thank you for coming to participate in a very special remembrance day service," said Jones, "that not only seeks to recognize our veterans on this Veterans Day, but also [to] honor and remember the sacrifices [of] all nations affected by war, as we commemorate the 100 years anniversary of the ending of World War I, 'the war to end all wars,' a war that lasted over four years and led to the mobilization of more than 70 million military personnel, that not only ravaged the countryside of Europe but resulted in the death of over nine million combatants and seven million civilians."
In formation on the green expanse of the parade ground was a color party bearing the flags of seven of the many nations that took part in the war: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and the United States. Arrayed behind them in a long horizontal formation were 188 Soldiers of C Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, all basic trainees at Fort Benning's Infantry School. At the head of their formation stood four of their drill sergeants and their company commander.
The program featured the playing of national anthems of the seven countries whose flags were on the field as well as laying of memorial wreaths by representatives of those same seven nations and the Netherlands.
There were also speakers' remarks, hymns, prayers and a "ceremonial barrage" of artillery rounds fired by a howitzer battery at a far end of the field. The barrage was made to evoke the deadly toll taken by artillery during the war, according to the museum, because some 75 percent of casualties were from artillery fire.
After the playing of the national anthems and an invocation by a U.S. Army chaplain, a soloist came to the microphone and sang a hymn, "Valiant Hearts," the first stanza of which reads:
O valiant hearts who to your glory game,
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved."
Later in the program the same soloist sang a second hymn, "I Vow To Thee My Country."
In the morning's keynote remarks, the speaker, Retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, recounted how the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria touched off the "carnage of the First World War." Metz is the chairman and chief executive officer of the National Infantry Museum Foundation.
"I believe 'carnage' is the correct word when you review the data," Metz told the audience. "Let me do it ... in deaths per day...Germany, 1,300 per day; France, 900 per day; Great Britain, 567 per day; Italy, 513 per day; Canada, 42 per day; Australia, 40 per day; Belgium, 38 per day; and the United States, 200 per day.
"So the carnage was horrible," continued Metz.
Metz then underscored the role of artillery as the deadliest of the many battlefield threats that faced troops and civilians during the war.
"You know," said Metz, "in the First World War, we lost a lot of Soldiers, Marines, combatants and noncombatants, to disease, lethal gas, pistols, rifles, machine guns, tanks. But no weapon came close to the killing power of artillery, the artillery of the First World War."
The artillery is known in the U.S. Army and elsewhere as the "King of Battle."
"Clearly 'King of Battle,' artillery killed 75 percent of the combatants and 60 percent of the non-combatants," said Metz.
"An estimated 1.5 billion rounds of artillery were fired during the war, 1.5 billion rounds every hour of the war," he said. "Or, another way, 644 each minute of the war."
Then, at 10:55 a.m., the sudden boom of a cannon broke upon the proceedings, its report rolling across the parade ground and far beyond, the first of a five-minute, 60-round "barrage" that continued at five-second intervals by the artillery battery of Task Force 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, firing 75 mm pack howitzers.
The guns had been laid abreast at the edge of a wood at the far end of the field, and each time a howitzer fired it threw out a thin tongue of flame and a gush of whitish-gray smoke that rolled upward into the trees, engulfing them and lingering thickly in the trunks and branches before fading upward and away.
The firing was timed to end at the same time the armistice took effect a century earlier - 11 a.m.. And at precisely 11 a.m., the gun crews ceased firing.
There followed, among other things, the playing of "Taps," a minute of silence, and the laying of wreaths, after which the color party and the trainees of C Company marched off the field, ending the ceremony.
One of Company C's trainees, Pvt. Jarrett Hundley, 20, of Taylor, Texas, said after the ceremony that it "meant a lot" to have been part of it.
"It's great to be out there on the field to remember all the people who fell," said Hundley. "And it's good to be out on the field because eventually, we'll be doing all the same things our past veterans have done."
His company commander, Capt. Michael Toland, said the ceremony made a strong impression on young Soldiers like Hundley who are so new to the Army.
"I think it draws a deep connection to the U.S. Army and its heritage," he said. "The Soldiers coming in, it shows them the legacy they're coming from. You know, a hundred years ago, the end of World War I, and here they are, 2018, just starting their service.
"They look at the service of our veterans and fallen heroes and I do think they take this job very serious," he continued, "and they understand that sacrifice could be made by themselves as well."