Poetry, music and history reverberated off the marble columns of the Utah Capitol on Thursday as the state officially marked the centennial of the end of World War I — “The Great War” — with reminders of the sacrifices made for the cause of freedom then and now.
“There’s still the fight against evil in the world,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in his remarks at the Veterans Day ceremony, marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. The first Armistice Day observances were held the next year.
The event, organized by a government-mandated centennial commission, drew an audience of about 200 veterans, active-duty military, legislators, students, civilians and history-minded re-enactors.
Herbert held up a weathered copy of the Nov. 11, 1918, edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, with the banner headline “Germany Surrenders.” He noted that 21,000 Utahns served in World War I; 665 died in battle, or from disease or starvation, and 864 were wounded.
Herbert recounted the stories of Utahns who served in “the war to end all wars.” He mentioned Capt. James B. Austin, mortally wounded in the Argonne forest, and whose mother raised money for a World War I monument in Memory Grove. He cited Maud Fitch, a Eureka woman who bought a Ford Model T with her own money and used it as an ambulance.
Herbert connected those sacrifices to that of Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden and a major in the Utah National Guard, who was killed Saturday during an insider attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“The freedom and liberty that we enjoy, he believed Afghanistan should enjoy also,” Herbert said.
Speakers at Thursday’s ceremony noted that the end of World War I did not mean an end to suffering for those who fought, their families, and the world at large.
Branden Little, a history professor at Weber State University, recounted two Utahns who died five days apart, just a month before the armistice: George Gidney, 28, of Brigham City, and James Wesley Chipman, 24, of American Fork.
“The armistice did little to lessen the grief of their families,” Little said.
Meanwhile, the treaties that ended the war “did not produce complete peace,” Little said. Some have blamed the demand for reparations from the defeated Germans for sowing the seeds of Nazism before World War II, but Little countered that “Hitler’s hate-filled actions were not the inevitable result of the Treaty of Versailles.”
For others, the scars of World War I were internal.
Charlotte Schurtz, a senior English major at Brigham Young University, read a poem written by her great-grandmother and namesake, Charlotte Avis Levey Scholl. The poem was inspired by Scholl’s observations of her brother, Daniel Levey, a promising young lawyer who enlisted to fight in World War I, and came back a broken man — suffering what then was called “shell shock” and now is called post-traumatic stress.
The ceremony began with the Utah National Guard Brass Quintet performing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as a color guard of veterans from all branches of the armed forces presented the U.S. flag, Utah’s state flag and the banners of those military branches. The quintet closed the event with a medley of those branches’ fight songs.
In between, Salt Lake City’s Tribeca Ensemble, a chamber quartet, performed “Banks of Green Willow,” a work by English composer George Butterworth. The composer, 31, died in the Battle of the Somme, and his music has become symbolic of the culture and creativity lost to the war.
The stories of World War I still have meaning today, Little said at the end of his history lesson.
“We should always be wary," Little said, “of leaders who advocate war yet dismiss the reality of death and its enduring consequences.”
Veterans Day Centennial
More events are scheduled along the Wasatch Front in the next week to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.
- Saturday, 2 p.m. — Rededication of the Ogden Doughboy statue, Ogden Cemetery, 1875 Monroe Blvd., Ogden.
- Saturday, around 3:30 p.m. — Flyover of a KC-135 Stratotanker, by the 151st Air Refueling Wing of the Utah Air National Guard, over Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City. The flyover will happen just before Saturday’s Utes football game against Oregon. The KC-135 may be seen circling over either Davis County or the south end of Salt Lake County.
- Saturday, 7 p.m. — Utah National Guard’s Veterans Day concert, Tabernacle at Temple Square, South Temple and Main Street, Salt Lake City.
- Sunday, 2 p.m. — Armistice Day poetry reading, with The Babcock Readers reciting works by World War I poets, Chapman Library, 577 S. 900 West, Salt Lake City.
- Monday, noon — Dedication of the new/renovated Utah State University War Memorial, USU campus, Logan.
- Thursday, Nov. 15, noon — Brown bag at the Utah State Archives, 346 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City.