In the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, all hostility on the Western front of World War I ceased, bringing an official end to the “war to end all wars.”
One person with a Tullahoma connection was there to witness the sudden ceasefire and wrote about it in his diary that year.
William Henry Carden, the grandfather of local photographer Norris Carden, was one of around 100,000 Tennesseans who fought in World War I. He told his diary about how his lieutenant notified his company about the upcoming ceasefire.
“At 10 o’clock, the lieutenant came and said that hostility would cease at 11 o’clock,” Carden wrote. “At 11 o’clock, all guns stopped firing.”
Carden’s diary excerpts were read to scores of Tullahoma citizens and veterans during the 26th annual Veterans Day ceremony on Monday by featured speaker Col. Scott Cain in his second consecutive appearance at the ceremony.
Cain, the current AEDC commander who has served in the U.S. Air Force for nearly 30 years, told Carden’s story as a way to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the armistice that brought about the end of “The Great War.”
Carden, Cain told the audience, was inducted into the Army in May 1918, a little over a year after the United States entered the war and just six months before the armistice was signed. He was a member of Company Bravo of the 311th machine-gun battalion, set to join the U.S. 79th division in the Muese-Argonne region of France, near the front lines.
While Carden survived the war and made it back home, Cain said, many more did not.
“Those losses are unfathomable to us today,” Cain said, “so today we will remember them and many others who have served.”
‘Why veterans serve’
Also woven into Cain’s speech on Monday was a special message to his children, 14-year-old Nadia and 10-year-old Evan.
“I decided the most important thing I could do today was to make an attempt to tell my son and daughter why it is that veterans serve,” he told the audience.
First and foremost, he said, “veterans serve because our nation is called.”
While the armed forces of 2018 are robust and filled with those who possess a volunteer spirit, Cain said, the Army and National Guard of the early 20th century only had about 100,000 members each.
“But we Americans have always known that there are some things that are just worth fighting for,” he said, “and we’re willing to fight when the things that we most cherish, our liberties and those of our allies, are threatened.”
Cain highlighted the importance of the all-volunteer armed forces the nation has today, saying that spirit of service within our veterans exists still today.
While the veterans of both World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars were made up of both volunteers and conscripts, none of those serving today were drafted.
“So this is the second reason that veterans serve: they volunteer,” Cain said. While servicemen and women volunteer for any number of reasons and enjoy both short enlistments and decades-long careers in the military, “ultimately they serve for you, Nadia and Evan,” he told his children.
“Before I knew you, before you existed, I hoped that you would be here one day,” he said. “And I knew what I wanted for you, just as I know now what I want for you. I want the same opportunities I have still in this great country. I want the same liberties for you and your generation that I found and fell in love with in this great country. And I want you to respect those and support those who serve for the rest of your life. Our veterans serve for you, our families and our future.”
Pause and reflect
In closing, Cain again requested each person in the audience take time and “listen to our veterans’ stories.”
“Ask about them. Read about them. Re-tell those stories,” he told the audience.
“Most veterans are humble and private about their experience,” he cautioned, but “I implore you … to take a little extra effort to ask veterans what they’ve done to serve.”
Doing so not only honors these veterans’ service, Cain said, but also allows for a better understanding of their sacrifices and motivations for serving.
“We can better understand what wars really mean and why veterans serve,” Cain said of listening to veterans.
“I am thankful for the relative peace and prosperity that we enjoy in our homeland,” Cain said. “Let’s all be thankful today for those who brought it: our veterans.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.