The 100th an­niver­sary of Ar­mistice Day

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - OPINION - James Burns James F. Burns is a re­tired pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Florida.

I’ve waited 40 years to write this ar­ti­cle. For it was in 1978 when I first came across my Un­cle Car­roll Hos­brook’s WW I let­ters, in­clud­ing one writ­ten from France on Nov. 11, 1918, Ar­mistice Day, now a full cen­tury ago.

For Un­cle Car­roll, go­ing to war was a grad­ual ex­pe­ri­ence that started with a spir­ited pa­tri­o­tism and ended with the re­al­ity of war, death, and sac­ri­fice. For that rea­son this ar­ti­cle will share only two of Un­cle Car­roll’s let­ters, the first and the last which de­fine this con­trast.


Camp Sher­man, Ohio — May 6, 1918

Dear Grandma,

I got your let­ter, which was the first let­ter I got since I was up here, and I was very glad to get it. Well, I went out on the range and fired the ma­chine gun for the first time this morn­ing, and it made my ears ring as if some­one hit me. This af­ter­noon I got my sec­ond in­oc­u­la­tion and an­other vac­ci­na­tion. Then I got my ri­fle, car­tridge belt, and pack. This in­oc­u­la­tion was big­ger but it has not made me sick (yet). Maybe that will come later. I’ll get seven more be­fore I get in the war.

You said sis­ter Har­riet had the headache. That is noth­ing new. Let her come up here and take some of the stuff I got to take, and it would cure her headaches. I got an aw­ful bad cold now. I haven’t any girl up here, so get a real pretty one down there to write to me. Don’t worry about me, I will take care of my­self. That shot in the back is start­ing to work on my knees. They feel like they are go­ing to fall off.

Car­roll Hos­brook, 324th Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion

••• Car­roll’s mind was still on the home he had just left, sis­ter Har­riet’s headache, and getting girls — pretty girls, mind you — to write to him. But the equip­ment he was is­sued, his ears ring­ing from gun­fire, and that in­oc­u­la­tion spread­ing through his body were signs and symp­toms of what lay ahead.

Car­roll had never been away from home and his light-hearted sense of ad­ven­ture was still in­tact as he crossed the At­lantic (“a won­der­ful trip”), spend­ing time in Eng­land be­fore cross­ing over to France where the war was rag­ing. Ini­tially, he was still en­thralled by what he saw — “churches and other build­ings 300 years old, but I am not over here to study his­tory.”

But by Septem­ber Car­roll had seen ac­tion and was in a Bri­tish field hos­pi­tal, the somber re­al­ity of war wrap­ping it­self around him as he mused over in­scrip­tions on the belt buck­les taken from dead Ger­man sol­diers that said “Gott Mitt Uns,” mean­ing “God is with us.” He didn’t think so, soon know­ing that “Aus­tria has given in to Pres­i­dent Wil­son’s peace terms” and that Ger­man sol­diers “were whipped, fed up with war, but too stub­born to give up.”

But then came Novem­ber 11th, a Mon­day that found Pvt. Car­roll Hos­brook sit­ting on the steps of a bombed-out church, once again writ­ing a let­ter home to his grand­mother.


Some­where over here — Nov. 11, 1918

Dear Grandma,

This has been some day in this town. We got news this morn­ing that the Huns had given up at 5 a.m. There is a big church here which is partly de­stroyed, but it has a bell still in­tact, and it has been ring­ing since noon. It is now af­ter 6, and it is still ring­ing. I guess it will ring all night if the Yanks can get re­lief enough. I guess you had a lit­tle cel­e­bra­tion when you got the news.

The Yanks sure gave the Huns a good hot chase. I guess they will think twice be­fore they start out to take the world again. I would like to tell a lot more, but it might be cen­sored. Just wait and I’ll be walk­ing in your door some nice clear day and can tell you what I have seen of this great war. I never thought that one’s part would be such a small part in this war. But I found out it is true when you say you are go­ing to do your bit — it is a lit­tle bit. We are go­ing to move out in two or three days, go­ing closer to the coast and maybe to Eng­land. The English want to see us be­cause we have been fight­ing with their boys, and you will read some­thing very great about us in his­tory. We are wanted to take part in a big parade in Eng­land. I re­main as ever, Pvt. Car­roll Hos­brook


Car­roll Hos­brook was a very or­di­nary Amer­i­can who fought for his coun­try, the one that you and I have in­her­ited and must come to­gether to keep. On this 100th an­niver­sary of the WW I Ar­mistice, may we never for­get these sol­diers and their sac­ri­fices. Each did “their bit.”

God bless Amer­ica.

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