One hundred years ago this month, the United States of America declared war on Germany and joined what was then called the Great War or with terrible lack of foresight, “The War to End All Wars.”
My Grandfather (pictured) Herschel Wilson, aka Woody Wilson, was among those Americans who signed up and became part of the American Expeditionary Force. He served as a Machine Gunner in Flanders. He was 18.
Machine Guns. Artillery. Trench Warfare. Mustard Gas. 250,000 dead at the Battle of The Somme. The First World War destroyed forever the illusion that war was a Grand Adventure.
Here is a poem by Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est . Owen was a Lieutenant in the British army. He was wounded in 1914, blown out of a foxhole by a mortar shell. He laid unconscious for days among the remains of other dead British soldiers. He had what we would diagnosis today as TBI and PTSD. None the less, he volunteered to return to the front in 1917. He was killed in 1918, one week before the Armistice was signed. He was 25.
Dulce et Decorum est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime …
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.