By Tammy Trail
When Jennifer told me that the subject for this month’s blogs was the 100th anniversary of World War I, I groaned. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love history, I am more apt to watch something with a historical bent on it in the form of a movie, or television program. I am most definitely an avid reader of historical fiction. But, I thought this was going to be more like a research assignment since I really didn’t know a whole lot about the first World War.
I found that I really did learn quite a bit. Europe of today is not much different than the Europe of yesteryear. Everyone is still fighting for control of something. Who can colonize what country, or have a say so over what goes across borders. Sounds really familiar. I do hope we never have to worry about another World War. In 1914, President Wilson hoped for a peaceful resolution to the growing European conflict. He declared the United States to be neutral. In April of 1917, the American Army only had 300,000 troops including all the National Guard units that could be federalized for national service. The war with Mexico the year before had proved just how much our country lacked in battle readiness.
The Lusitania changed all that. America declared war on Germany. The American build-up was slow. General John J. Pershing called for one million men, Congress could muster 420,000 by the spring of 1918. President Wilson also made it very clear that our troops were not to be absorbed into other armies to fight for Britain or France. It would fight under our flag, and with our own commanders directing it. By November of 1918 General Pershing had thrown almost 1.2 million Americans into battle. In the 19 months that the U.S. was involved in World War I, 116,000 Americans were killed, with more than 204,000 wounded. And you have to ask, what did anyone get out of it?
Well, there were some interesting innovations made, and one by a Yank. A United States Army doctor, Captain Oswald Robertson established the fist blood bank on the Western Front in 1917. With the ability to replenish blood lost by mortal wounds, soldiers lives were saved with lifesaving transfusions, and the sooner the better.
A Welsh surgeon, Hugh Owen Thomas ( a relation to my blog partners?) invented the Thomas splint, which of course, secured a broken leg. At the beginning of the war 80% of all soldiers who suffered a broken femur died. By 1916, 80% of soldiers with this same injury survived,
Antiseptic wound treatment became the norm. Cleanliness and hygiene became a major factor in the recovery of soldiers who were prone to contract trench fever, and a host of other infections as foxholes were a very dirty place to suffer a wound. The first responder’s of that day were courageous individuals who volunteered that went beyond their duties to get our doughboys back on their feet.
On February 27th 2011, the last living World War I veteran, Frank Buckles passed away to glory at the age of 110. He served as a United States Army ambulance driver in Europe. He was a strong advocate for improvements to be made to the neglected and obscure WWI memorial in Washington, D.C. which stands in the shadow of the more elaborate WWII memorial. During WWII, Frank served as a ship’s officer on a merchant vessel. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese for more than three years before freed by United States troops. He was the heart of patriotism, serving his country and he fellow soldiers until the end.