During this month of November it seems appropriate to ponder for a while on the history of our American military. Let’s start with the history of Veterans Day.
World War I began in the summer of 1914. It ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
However, it is the date on which the fighting ended that we commemorate each November. This temporary cessation of hostilities, or armistice, took place when the troops of the Allied nations and the German troops agreed to stop fighting seven months prior to the signing of the treaty.
It was agreed that all fighting would cease at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — Nov. 11, 1918.
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In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day.
Originally the day was observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m.
On May 13, 1938, Congress approved making Nov. 11 each year a legal holiday, a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace. On that day veterans of World War I were honored.
The holiday officially changed names to Veterans Day in 1954.
Now that day honors American veterans of all wars.
Honoring veterans is one of the reasons for our military display at the Pendleton Historical Museum.
You can see many items on display from the American Civil War. We also have a nice display of photographs and documents from the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). This was a fraternal organization comprised of veterans of the Union army.
From World War I and World War II we have an array of uniforms, pictures and documents.
Especially important is the collection of newspaper articles and photographs of those local men and women who served. Some did not come home alive.
One of my favorites is the display of written accounts of time served by some of our local Pendleton veterans.
There is the story of Navy veteran Leslie Raymond Davis, born in 1918 on a farm east of Pendleton. You can read how he went to Indianapolis in 1939 to join the Navy. He passed the requirements except that he was 5 pounds underweight.
As he walked out of the Recruiting Station, an old CPO stopped him and told him how he could get in the Navy. Davis followed his advice and bought five pounds of bananas. He sat on the steps of the Federal Courthouse and ate them, then went back in to be weighed.
When he stepped off the scales, the recruiter said, “You’re in the Navy!” This small town boy traveled to the Pacific and served on a destroyer at Pearl Harbor. You can read the account of Dec. 7, 1941, from his point of view.
The account of his naval career is well worth the read.
The written memoirs of George Kinnard, as dictated to his wife, Wilma, are perhaps my favorite.
I remember Mr. Kinnard as a nice man who worked for Pendleton schools. After reading this detailed account of his military journey — 21 days crossing the rough North Atlantic, landing at Casablanca, training along with the French Foreign Legion, traveling on to Oran, Algeria, in boxcars (40 & 8) and on to Italy then France.
After being injured during battle and eventually transported home, he tells of trying to get to a telephone once back in New York; he tells of finally finding a phone and calling Pendleton to talk with Wilma.
She wasn’t home at the time of the call, but Helen Hite, the local telephone operator, said “I’ll find her!”
Helen proceeded to ring the home of Wilma’s mother, Pearl and the call was completed.
After reading of Mr. Kinnard’s military experiences, my memories of him have forever been transformed from a nice man to a true American hero.
Earlier in this writing, I mentioned that honoring veterans is one of the reasons for our military display. The other reason is to bring history to life for new generations of Americans.
Once on a Sunday afternoon, I purposefully lingered in this display to watch, listen and learn as families and individuals went through.
I heard parents tell their children about family members who had served in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.
The children enjoyed looking at the uniforms, gear and especially the Civil War uniform, boots and sword.
These items tell about the daily life of a soldier without using words. One boy speculated how hot the uniform must have been in summer and commented on how worn the boots were and little water the canteen held.
There is a tattered American flag on display that was donated by Curtis Torrence, a Pendleton Heights High School graduate. His company commanded tanks that swept into Iraq during Iraqi Freedom. This flag flew on an F-16C Viper.
There was a young boy who stood and read the card that explains the history of that particular flag. It took him some time to read the card, and when he finished he came running up to his mother as she and I talked.
He said “Mom, this is the best day of my life! I just saw a flag that was in the real battle!”
This is what preserving history is all about. It is not just a collection of weapons, utensils, cots, letters and cards sent home. It is remembering and teaching us that every patch, pin, medal and insignia on every uniform has a story to tell.
They were earned and proudly worn by people who dedicated at least a part of their lives — sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice of life itself — in service to America.
For this we are grateful.
Jo Scott is a member of the Pendleton Historical Museum board.