Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day Salute

The Colonel never really knew his maternal grandfather.    Eubanks McCrary was not much more than a name, a few faded photographs, and a handful of anecdotes -- the Colonel was a mere toddler when the man died.

The one thing about the man that had always been intriguing was the fact that he had served in the First World War.  Shame on the Colonel, but only of late has he begun to research the history of his grandfather's service. 

The Colonel's mother recently granted him custody of a small clutch of her father's documents.  When she handed them to him in a legal envelope, it felt to the Colonel like being entrusted with a most fragile fragment of our family history.  Of no inherent value in and of itself, but, to this increasingly sentimental soul, a treasure trove of not-so-trivial trivia about a man with whom the Colonel wishes for all the world to have spent acknowlegeable time.    

On the Colonel's desk this morning rests the contents of that envelope: a photograph of Grandmother and Grandfather McCrary taken several years before his death; a copy of their marriage license (married on Christmas Day, 1923); and a non-descript, paper-thin leather envelope with the faint embossing of an eagle and the words "Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Service.

Protected within that folded leather is a two-sided document.  On the front above the seal of the United States (appropriate to this day that the eagle's talons grasp both the arrows of war and the olive branch of peace -- our nation's enemies still have a choice) are the words, "Honorable Discharge from the United States Army."   On the reverse, a summary of Private McCrary's service under the words, "Enlistment Record."
 
There are terse, handwritten blank-fillers to the right of line headings such as Name:..., Grade:...; Date and Place of Enlistment:...; etc..., but from them a quick snapshot of the man can be gleaned.
 
Eubanks McCrary, from Columbus, Mississippi, was inducted into the United States Army on May the 27th, 1918.  He was 22, single, and by vocation, a farmer.  Upon his discharge a year later he was described as in "Good" physical condition and of "Excellent" character.

Near the bottom of his Enlistment Record are four tight lines available for "Remarks." Into that small space the practiced hand of a military professional entered a shorthand account of Private McCrary's service to his nation in the Great War:

No A.W.O.L.  No absence under G.O. 45 WD 1914
Co. D. 4th Tr. Reg Camp Pike, Ark5/27/18 to 7/10/18.  Co L C.P. July ARD 7/10/18 to 9/22/18.
Co. B. 161st Inf. 9/22/18 to 10/7/18. Co. B. 137th INf 10/7/18 to 5/6/19. Cas Det 4th Rc Bn 162nd DB
5/6/19 to date of discharge.  Served in France.  Sailed for France 7/18/18. Arrived U.S. 4/28/19 Entitled to travel pay to Columbus, Miss.  

Immediately following his induction into the Army, Private McCrary reported to Camp Pike, outside of Little Rock, Arkansas and was assigned to Company D, 4th Training Regiment until his completion of basic training on July 10, 1918.  Within the next week he traveled by troop train for the East Coast, from which he sailed aboard a troop ship to France on the 18th of July, 1918. 

From what was known about the casualty rates of the horrific meat-grinder that had gone on in France since 1914, he likely never expected to see home again. 

Upon arrival in France, Private McCrary was assigned to Company B of the 161st Infantry Regiment.  That regiment, in the 81st Infantry Brigade of the 41st Division, had been one of the first units to go to France with the American Expeditionary Force in the fall of 1917.  Upon arrival in France, the 41st Division was designated a "Replacement Division" and its men were subsequently distributed as replacements to other divisions when their ranks were depleted during fighting.  The 41st Division then assumed the role of training new arrivals to France prior to their assignment to the front.
   
The Colonel's grandfather arrived in France just as the great Allied Meuse-Argonne Offensive of the war against Germany was kicking off.  One of the divisions at the forefront of that offensive -- the 35th Division -- had been in the attack for four days when, short of food and ammunition and its fighting strength sapped by heavy casualties, it was counterattacked by the better part of four of the best-trained divisions in the German army.  The 35th Division ceased to exist, for all practical purposes, as a fighting force and its remnants were withdrawn from the line.

Private McCrary was among the soldiers, newly arrived in France, who replenished the ranks of one of the 35th's four infantry regiments, the 137th Infantry.  The 35th Division was sent to the relatively quiet Somme Dieu sector on the southeastern end of the Allied front.  There, it went into defensive trenchworks and so remained until the Armistice went into effect and the guns fell silent...

... ninety-three years ago, today.

For two decades, Americans celebrated the 11th of November as Armistice Day, in remembrance of the victory over Germany and the American fighting men who helped bring an end to "the war to end all wars."

Only, that war didn't do any such thing.

American men in uniform knew little peace during those next two decades.  Combat in defense of American interests in Latin America and even in Russia (grist for a future post) kept a sharp edge on the small cadre of American warriors who would form the backbone and animating spirit of the mighty force called on to defeat the Axis Powers during WWII.

So, after that war, and the one that followed, America began to focus it's remembrances on the 11th of November not so much on the end of what had become known by then as the First World War, but on the living men and women who had honorably served our nation in uniform. 

Armistice Day became Veterans Day.

Eubanks McCrary arrived back in the United States on the 23rd of April, 1919, less than eleven months after joining the United States Army and reporting for training at Camp Pike. Less than two weeks later he was honorably discharged and back on the farm.

He is buried in the small cemetery at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church on the eastern outskirts of Columbus, Mississippi.  Not far from his farm, now a subdivision.

A simple marker reads:

B. Eubanks McCrary
Mississippi 
Pvt Co B 137 Inf
World War I
4 Mar 1896 – 9 Oct 1958


The Colonel knows that the three dozen of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may indeed be remembering that one of the Colonel's pet peeves is the aggravating and undisciplined habit of a majority of Americans to mix up the meanings and observances of Memorial Day (initially known as Decoration Day, and first celebrated by the fair ladies of Columbus, Mississippi at the conclusion of the War for Southern Independence), Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day.

For the record: Memorial Day is reserved solely for the solemn remembrance of those who died in battle in our nation's wars, Veterans Day is reserved solely for the recognition of living veterans of the United States military, and Armed Forces Day is reserved solely for the recognition of those currently serving in the armed forces of these re-United States.  Period.  No room for discussion or latitude for mix-matching.

So, the three dozen of you who regularly waste rod and cone perusing posts hereon may mistakenly believe that you have caught the Colonel in a rare mistake  -- recognizing a deceased veteran on Veterans Day.

The operative word in the sentence above is "mistakenly."

The Colonel, sole arbiter of said (and unsaid) matters both in posts hereon and actions hereabout his vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, is exercising the rights vested in him, by him, to declare today Armistice Day, here aboard Eegeebeegee, capital of the Tallahatchie Free State; and, therefore, takes this opportunity to come to the correct position of attention and execute a hand salute to the memory of his grand progenitor.
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