95 years ago today one of the most destructive...and stupidest...wars in human history came to a bloody close.
What we now call the First World War claimed 35 to 40 MILLION lives. In it's final, pointless hours approximately 11,000 unnecessary killed and wounded were added to the carnage.
Though the Germans offered an immediate cessation of hostilities upon signing the Armistice the Allies insisted on a six-hour delay, purportedly to pass the news through their ranks.
Many Allied officers, some motivated by a desire to punish the enemy, some seeking a last chance to win distinction, maintained fire till the last moment. Not content merely with the damage inflicted by artillery, some went as far as ordering infantry assaults across the trench.
As in 1914, before the fronts stabilized in extended trench warfare, the attackers were mowed down almost instantly...and in these last hours for even less purpose.
It is believed that the last soldier to die that day was American Private Henry Gunther of Baltimore, whose life was snuffed out in literally the war's final seconds.
By the following year we had begun to mark November 11 as Armistice Day. At the close of the Second World War it became Veterans Day, to also honor those who fought in the latest "war to end all wars." Fitting enough, though sadly it helped to banish the memory of that useless and bloody earlier conflict from the American psyche, making it on our side of the Atlantic a nearly forgotten war.
Perhaps the best remembered words of that war were written by Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae, a Canadian surgeon who himself would not live to see the end of the war:
"We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields."