Thursday, March 29, 2007

The passing of the lost generation

And then there were five. Last February 22nd Howard V Ramsey died at the age of 109. With him passed the last living memories of American combat in the trenches of World War I. The few remaining American veterans of the First World War era saw no combat. Last Tuesday Charlotte Winters died, also at the age of 109. She was the last living American female veteran of World War I. In 1916 she personally met with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to lobby for allowing women to serve in the military. There are now just five living Americans who wore the uniform in the War to End All Wars.

I recall speaking with only one veteran of the Great War. When I was a young man who had just enlisted in the Navy in 1985 I was asked by my recruiter to help out in the office one day while waiting to ship out. So I made some phone calls looking for people who had previously shown some interest in military service. One call I made was answered by a gentleman who identified himself as the individual whose name I had been given. I asked him if he still had any interest in serving his country. He enquired in what capacity, and I said by joining the Navy. He laughed and told me he was ready to go but wasn’t sure we would take him. I asked him why. He explained very patiently that he had already served in the military. I thought this was a bit odd since I thought I was calling people in their late teens but undeterred I explained that prior military service was not an obstacle to enlistment. I then asked him when he had served and in what branch.

He told me he had served in the cavalry from 1917-1919. Shocked I asked him to verify his name for me. Which he did and it matched the one on the list I had been given. After some questions I found out I was looking for his youngest grandson and namesake. However before getting off the phone I spent the better part of an hour listening to some of the most interesting (and funny) stories I have heard. Some could not be repeated on a Christian blog but I still vividly recall him explaining the joys of being sent to not one but four different embarkation ports for transportation to France and at each one his unit was turned around for one reason or another. Apparently at one there was an outbreak of the Influenza epidemic. At another one the ship they were supposed to go on was not designed to accommodate their horses! Another vessel had been commandeered by someone trying to move artillery. And each time his unit had to herd all their supplies and gear, not to mention their horses, and get them on another train for another port. His description of shuttling all over the country on the troop and horse trains left me in tears. After the third failure to embark there were no trains available and his commanding officer essentially hijacked a passenger train and ordered the rail workers to hook up some stock cars for their horses. By time he got over to Europe the war was winding down and he never saw battle. He spent six months in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation after the war was over though.

This guy sounded like a cross between Abbott & Costello on one hand and John Wayne on the other. When he said he was ready to join up (he was in his late 80’s) I think he was dead serious. I deeply regret that I did not write down his name which is now lost to my memory. Nor do I know when he passed over, but I hope God welcomed home this old horse soldier.

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