At 11:11 on 11/11 each year, the siren mounted on the water tower in my home town (Grant City, MO) would go off for one minute. The school I attended from 1945-55 was just a couple of blocks away, so we students could hear it well from our classroom. I’m afraid it didn’t mean as much to me then as it should have, but the blaring of the siren commemorated the end of World War I at that very time in 1918.
My father was the youngest grandchild of William and Rachel Seat, although William died long before my father was born. “Grandma” Seat’s oldest grandchild, Leslie, was born in 1890, the son of Jacob and Isabelle Williams. (The Isabelle Church in Worth County, which is long gone, and the Isabelle Cemetery, which is still used, were named for Isabelle (Seat) Williams, who died a couple of weeks after Leslie’s birth.)
Leslie Williams served as a soldier in World War I. Several times I heard my father tell the story about Leslie. On the very first morning he was deployed to the battlefield, Leslie was shot in the leg. The wound was so bad his leg had to be amputated at the knee. Later, probably more than once, when someone exclaimed at how unfortunate he was to be injured so quickly after going to battle, Leslie’s quick reply was, “No, I was lucky; those who were not wounded in the morning were killed that afternoon.”
Although I never knew my father’s cousin Leslie, I have often thought about him when reflecting on the tragedy known as World War I. Indeed, he was one of the fortunate ones, for there were at least 8,500,000 military deaths in that war, including around 120,000 from the U.S. About twice that many who were wounded, like Leslie Williams and other young men from all over the nation.
Prolific British author H. G. Wells’ book The War that Will End War was published in 1914, the beginning year of the Great War, as it was called at the time. President Woodrow Wilson emerged as a skilled wartime leader in the U.S. by molding public opinion with such optimistic phrases as “a war to make the world safe for democracy” and “a war to end all wars,” paraphrasing Wells.
But here it is, over ninety years later, and our country and many others are still entangled in war. On August 31 of this year, the President announced that the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) is over—but there are still close to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. And there are nearly twice that number deployed to the War in Afghanistan, which is now in its tenth year.
Tomorrow, on the 92nd anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, let’s join in prayer that all of the troops will soon come home, and arrive walking on two good legs.