Fitting tribute for World War I service
Compliments to the N.C. Department of Transportation, which has been planting red poppies along many of the state’s highways.
The plantings — done in cooperation with Susi Hamilton and her state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources — are a subtle salute to the American soldiers who died in World War I.
The United States entered “the Great War” 100 years ago this year. More than 86,000 Tar Heels served in the War to End All Wars; 624 were killed in action and 204 died later of their wounds.
Another 1,500 or more North Carolina doughboys were killed by disease, chiefly the great Spanish influenza pandemic, which also hit hard here at home.
Others died more prosaically like Cpl. Thomas F. Bagley, who accidentally asphyxiated while on duty with the Cape Fear Coastal Artillery at Fort Caswell.
Others lived to serve our state. A mountain boy named Sam J. Ervin Jr. earned a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts fighting in the trenches. He came home and built a distinguished career as a lawyer, legislator, judge and U.S. senator, emerging as one of the few heroes of Watergate.
We don’t often think of those doughboys any more. America’s last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 at the age of 110; he’d enlisted at 16.
Their Great War was followed by a greater, more terrible war 20 years later. School children no longer have to memorize “In Flanders Fields,” the poem by Canadian John McCrae, who saw the poppies sprouting among the soldiers’ graves behind the Western Front.
Yet we should not allow their service and sacrifice to be forgotten. Anyone who leaves the safety of home to risk death — or to come home with the silent wounds of war — at their nation’s call has earned the right to be remembered.
The Great War changed North Carolina and America in many ways. With the men off to fight, more women entered offices and factories. Fort Bragg opened during World War I and has been a bastion of national defense ever since.
The wartime sugar shortage spurred a Salisbury company to experiment with cherry syrup, giving us Cheerwine. At the foot of Wilmington’s Greenfield Street, ships were built out of concrete. (And no, they didn’t float).
Planting red poppies by the roadside is a good gesture. So is the big, new World War I exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, finding clever new ways to tell the story of the soldiers, nurses and others.
So, it’s altogether fitting and proper to think of those doughboys — as we see the poppies on the roadsides.
And let us pray for a time when, once and for all, all the fighting will be over, Over There.
Reprinted from the New Bern Sun Journal
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