The recent centenary of World War I hit home for me, because my great grandfather served as a corporal in the US Army at the time. Unfortunately, he died when I was child and I was never able to hear his stories or personal reflections.
World War I, “The Forgotten War,” has been overlooked by subsequent generations, especially mine, as the glamour of World War II has eclipsed it in so many of our films and works of art.
In fact, World War I remains the only 20th century war to not have a national memorial in Washington, although valiant fundraising efforts are underway to correct this.
This year, however, thanks to social media ( #Armistice100 is a “thing”) and the good work of veterans’ groups around the world, young people have been able to learn about The Great War and its heroes.
But many of our heroines remain forgotten.
Some 22,000 trained nurses were recruited by the American Red Cross for World War I offensives in France. Many of them were on the front lines, tending to the grisliest of wounds, but without rank or commission. It should be noted they were not afforded military benefits when their service ended. Years later, after women achieved the right to vote, nurses were finally granted “relative ranks” in the Army and Navy.
While I was in France this spring, I had the pleasure of visiting Meuse Argonne, an American cemetery with more of our military fallen than any other burial site in Europe. The Meuse Argonne Offensive, the decisive, but brutally fought victory for the Allies, ultimately delivered Armistice on November 11, 1918.
Walking through the endless tableau of Latin crosses in the spring drizzle was moving, of course, but the graves that struck me the most were those belonging to nurses, like Charlotte Cox, 37, who died within weeks of the war’s end.
She lay in a row with several other women, all of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, not as soldiers but as caregivers and faces of kindness. Many of them succumbed to influenza contracted while looking after their weak brothers in arms. This made their deaths all the more affecting.
Nearby Cox lie Annie Dade Reveley and Elizabeth Stearns Tyler, both of whom died also in their thirties, Caroline Christman, Dorothy Beth Millman, and Marion Crandall.
Crandall, age 45 from Cedar Rapids, was the first woman killed in active service during The Great War. Educated at the Sorbonne, she had a stint teaching French at a school in Davenport.
Seeking to put her knowledge of the language to use for her country, Crandall departed for Paris in January 1918. In March, the hostel where she was working for the YMCA canteen was shelled by the Germans.
May we take these stories to heart and recommit ourselves to support our military. I, for one, always look for ways to help women serving in our armed forces. Even a simple donation of toiletry items to a military charity can make a difference.
Here are a few organizations that could use our help, especially this holiday season: F7 Group, Department of Veterans Affairs-Center for Women Veterans, Grace After Fire, and the American Women Veterans Foundation.