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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

World War I - 90th Anniversary

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. Pictured above are nurses outside Evacuation Hospital #1 in Sebastopol, France. The photo is taken from the World War I Collection of the Massachusetts National Guard Museum and Archives in Worcester, available through the Digital Treasures of The collection is part of the Massachusetts National Guard 26th Infantry Division.

This was taken on May 7, 1918, at the beginning of those last horrible months before the Armistice. In two weeks, the American forces would make their first offensive at Catigny. That summer, battle after desperate battle brought more men under the care of these women. The Second Battle of the Marne, the shattering of the Hindenberg line. As Europe calls out separate declarations of independence from new or re-born countries with the crumbling empires, there is still Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne to be endured.

Then on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we had the still and silent end of the war to end all wars, not as much as by mutual agreement as by mutual exhaustion.

We may remember the battle names, and armies, and empires that fell, and the new countries that took shape on the new map of Europe. Remember also the women, whose nursing service was bleak and bloody and fraught with danger.

As we can see by this memorial plaque on Nantucket, by World War II, there were not only nurses, but WAVES and SPARS flanking the list of names of male Marines. All together, one nation, indivisible, but in a second world war that was not supposed to happen. The biggest legacy of World War I seems to be its failure to be the last war fought. We may forgive that generation its naïve idealism. We might envy it a little, also.

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