100 years have passed since fight­ing stopped in World War I

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Your Life - BY KAT BERG­ERON

On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month ex­actly 100 years ago, the fight­ing stopped. That’s why we ob­serve Vet­er­ans Day to­day.

The Great War, as

World War I was then called, didn’t of­fi­cially end un­til nine months later with the Treaty of Ver­sailles. But to those Amer­i­cans in the muddy, dis- ease-rid­den Euro­pean trenches, the Nov. 11,

1918, ar­mistice ceas­ing hos­til­i­ties be­tween Al­lied na­tions and Ger­many meant they’d soon be home.

I do not know where my grand­fa­ther, Guy Theodore Murray, was on that date. France, I sus­pect.

If you had fam­ily in­volved with WWI, do you know much about them? Where they were? What unit they were as­signed to? What they looked like in uni­form? How ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the worst ag­gres­sions of man af­fected their at­ti­tudes?

His­to­ri­ans some­times re­fer to The Lost Gen­er­a­tion, those who par­tici- pated in WWI and were born be­tween 1883 and 1900. The term was coined by au­thor-play­wright Gertrude Stein and pop­u­lar­ized by Mis­sis­sippi writer Ernest Hem­ing­way in his “A Mov­able Feast,” in which he ex­plains Stein heard the phrase from a French garage owner.

When a young mechanic was too slow to re­pair Stein’s car, the an­gry boss shouted, “You are all a généra­tion per­due,” a lost gen­er­a­tion, “all of you young peo­ple who served in the war.”

Lost? My grand­fa­ther, 27 when he went to war, ac­com­plished much af­ter-

ward. He pur­sued his oil gauger ca­reer, mar­ried and reared four chil­dren in a ru­ral western Penn­syl­va­nia vil­lage. He also took in me and my si­b­lings for a year dur­ing a fam­ily cri­sis.

I can­not re­mem­ber Grand­dad talk­ing about his war ex­pe­ri­ences, cer­tainly not to my young self who didn’t know enough to ask. He died when I was 11, and now my mother and all her broth­ers are gone also, leav­ing no one of that gen­er­a­tion to fill in the blanks.

I re­mem­ber when sit­ting down to din­ner at my grand­par­ents, if we didn’t eat ev­ery­thing on our plates we’d be ad­mon­ished by Grand­dad: “Re­mem­ber all the poor, starv­ing chil­dren of France.”

From that re­mark, WWI ob­vi­ously left an im­pres­sion, but I’ve un­cov­ered no writ­ten mem­o­ries or fam­ily let­ters. The search for govern­ment records is slow and on-go­ing.

Last year while sort­ing a stack of faded fam­ily pho­to­graphs, I found one of my grand­fa­ther in a WWI “dough­boy” uni­form. There’s no read­able in­signia or mark­ings, so it doesn’t pro­vide clues.

Grand­dad’s tomb­stone in a Greene County, PA, ceme­tery states: “Pvt. Guy T. Murray, Dec. 18, 1889 – Feb. 14, 1962, 520th Mo­tor Truck Co., World War I.” Yet, the cur­rent U.S. Army Trans­porta­tion Corps his­to­rian has told me he has no records of the 520th.

From that stack of pho­tos I set aside an­other odd­ity. Why would there be a ship among th­ese im­ages when my grand­fa­ther was no world trav­eler? Last week I restud­ied the photo and typed into a com­puter search engine, “Ships used in WWI.” Bingo!

Af­ter sev­eral hours of com­par­ing pho­tos, I’ve con­cluded the ship is the SS Havana, and smudged let­ter­ing on the stern fi­nally makes sense. Havana was a pas­sen­ger ship be­fore the war, built in 1906 in Philadel­phia, PA.

The War Depart­ment com­man­deered the Havana as a U.S. Army Trans­port and she was on the first con­voy of ships to take troops to France.

That jives with fam­ily sto­ries that Grand­dad was among the first in Gen. Per­sh­ings’ Ex­pe­di­tionary Forces to ar­rive in Europe.

Havana made only one transat­lantic cross­ing be­fore trans­fer­ring to the Navy to be out­fit­ted as a hospi­tal ship re­named USS Com­fort. If I never prove Grand­dad was aboard that first trip, I can con­sider that his be­ing in a trans­port unit meant he moved goods, mes­sages, am­mu­ni­tion, equip­ment and in­jured sol­diers. To a hospi­tal ship?

So many unan­swered ques­tions, and this per­sonal search rep­re­sents just a drop in the big­ger war his­tory bucket for us all. If you have a WWI an­ces­tor, I hope your trek down his­tory lane is eas­ier.

By this date 100 years ago, more than 2 mil­lion Amer­i­can sol­diers had served in Western Europe and more than 50,000 of them died there.

To­day’s Vet­er­ans Day com­mem­o­rates all Amer­i­can mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, of which about 16 mil­lion alive to­day served in at least one war. On this im­por­tant cen­ten­nial of the WWI ar­mistice, how­ever, we should not for­get to pay ho­mage to the long­gone men and women of my grand­fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion.

They should not re­main The Lost Gen­er­a­tion.

Kat Berg­eron, a vet­eran fea­ture writer spe­cial­iz­ing in Gulf Coast his­tory and sense of place, is re­tired from the Sun Her­ald. She writes the Mis­sis­sippi Coast Chron­i­cles col­umn as a free­lance cor­re­spon­dent. Reach her at Berg­eronKat@gmail.com or at South­ern Pos­sum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Bar­boursville, VA 22923.

Many World War I fam­ily sto­ries have faded away, leav­ing unan­swered ques­tions about un­marked pho­to­graphs. For ex­am­ple, did Guy T. Murray, at left, ar­rive in France on the SS Havana, right, a pas­sen­ger ship com­man­deered by the U.S. Army to trans­port the first U.S. sol­diers to France? Th­ese im­ages orig­i­nally from Penn­syl­va­nia join thou­sands of oth­ers across the U.S. to raise ques­tions about 100 years ago.

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