A cen­tury af­ter bat­tle for Paris, lead­ers mark WWI ar­mistice

The Olympian - - News - BY RAF CASERT As­so­ci­ated Press

Paris, the City of Light, al­ways was the grand­est prize of World War I, ei­ther to con­quer or de­fend.

So it is only fit­ting that when vic­tors and van­quished meet to mark the cen­ten­nial of the ar­mistice this week­end, the big­gest cer­e­mony should be on the famed Champs-El­y­sees at the Arc de Tri­om­phe.

On Fri­day, some lead­ers be­gan re­mem­brance events in a wide cres­cent of ceme­ter­ies and trenchrut­ted bat­tle­fields north of the cap­i­tal.

British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May laid wreaths for the first and last British sol­dier killed in the fight­ing – the two were buried across one an­other near Mons in south­ern Bel­gium. One grave holds the re­mains of Pvt. John Parr, killed Aug. 21, 1914. The other grave is of Pvt. Ge­orge El­li­son, who sur­vived some of the war’s worst bat­tles but was shot on Nov. 11, 1918 – the war’s last day.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron con­tin­ued his pil­grim­age of WWI sites and caught up with May, as the two present day lead­ers of the Al­lied forces that de­feated Ger­many walked past graves at the Thiep­val me­mo­rial.

“Each ceme­tery and me­mo­rial across the world is a unique and poignant re­minder of the cost of the First World War,” said May.

Sixty-nine heads of state and gov­ern­ment will un­der­score that mes­sage at the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier in Paris on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month on Sun­day, ex­actly a cen­tury af­ter the ar­mistice.

Such was the sym­bolic im­por­tance of the French cap­i­tal that vic­to­ri­ous U.S. Gen. John J. Per­sh­ing said it was his “de­sire that ev­ery man in the Amer­i­can Ex­pe­di­tionary Forces should be given the op­por­tu­nity to visit Paris be­fore re­turn­ing to the United States.”

Far from ev­ery sur­viv­ing U.S. sol­dier from the 19141918 war made it to the French cap­i­tal, but on Sun­day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will join his French coun­ter­part and host, Em­manuel Macron, and oth­ers to re­mem­ber the mil­lions who died dur­ing the first global con­flict.

Alan Seeger, the Amer­i­can poet that Macron lauded in his speech to the U.S. Con­gress last year, al­ready cap­tured the seeds of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in 1916 when he wrote, as a sol­dier in the French For­eign Le­gion, that “I never took arms out of any ha­tred against Ger­many or the Ger­mans, but purely out of love for France.”

France, Bri­tain and its em­pire, Rus­sia and the United States had the main ar­mies op­pos­ing a Ger­man-led coali­tion that also in­cluded the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian and Ot­toman em­pires. Nearly 10 mil­lion sol­diers died, of­ten in bru­tal trench war­fare where poi­son gas added a cru­elty in war­fare that the world had never seen.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands from all cor­ners of the world died in Europe, many of them on the West­ern Front reach­ing from Bel­gium’s Flan­ders Fields al­most up to the Swiss bor­der.

Car­ry­ing the her­itage of de­feated Ger­many, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel will be vis­it­ing the site in the woods north of Paris where mil­i­tary lead­ers agreed in a train car­riage to the ar­mistice at 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, six hours be­fore it took ef­fect.

On Sun­day, in an­other show of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Merkel will open an in­ter­na­tional peace fo­rum in Paris with Macron and U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res.

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