Veterans Day 2020

It’s Veteran’s Day! In my family this day is known as my Mom’s birthday. 

My Mom had this unusual story that she told me of her uncle dying in France during WWI and how she “peeked” into his coffin when his body was brought home. She had to stand on her toes to gaze in and she was amazed that she didn’t get caught. I think she mentioned that horses drew the coffin to the graveside. He was killed at Verdun on October 15, 1918. My Mom would have been 5 years old.

From the History Web site: 

Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime. Veterans Day occurs on November 11 every year in the United States in honor of the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918 that signaled the end of World War I, known as Armistice Day.

That’s sort of cool with all the elevens.

That story stayed in my back pocket for all of my life. I got really lucky when a cousin of mine reached out to me and gave me letters written to my Grandmother and the family from John L after he arrived in France. So I schemed up this idea with JWF to go to Verdun and pay our respects and gratitude for giving his life for our wonderful country.

JWF and I had lots of fun planning the first leg of our trip flying from Dulles into Charles De Gaulle Airport and then hopping on a train to Metz. It was a long trip and yet so worth it. I carried my Grandmother and all her sisters with me in my heart on this trip. They adored their little brother.

JWF and I have arrived in Metz! June 2002

The first leg of our journey is to Verdun by way of Metz! I had very little knowledge about this battle.

JWF wanted to use public transportation. The World Cup was also being played on this day with France in play! What an adventure just getting to Verdun!

I had a photo of John L.’s  tombstone with me; that’s what my family called him. I also brought two letters that he had written to my grandmother and other sisters and a newspaper announcement of his death and how he had died. JWF and I took the time to read these while in this sacred space of earth. Thank you Uncle John L.

John L Windham’s grave in Homewood, MS. I took this photo when I went researching family history.
John L wrote his Aunt Edna, my Grandmother after arriving in France.
Aunt Lois was one of my Grandmother’s younger sisters! This is from the Scott County News in Morton, MS.

I had no idea of the horror of WWI! No idea!

From Wikipedia: 

During the 300 days of the Battle of Verdun (21 February 1916 – 19 December 1916) approximately 230,000 men died out of a total of 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded and missing). The battle became known in German as Die Hölle von Verdun (English: The Hell of Verdun), or in French as L’Enfer de Verdun, and was conducted on a battlefield covering less than 20 square kilometers (7.7 sq mi)

The ossuary is a memorial containing the remains of both French and German soldiers who died on the Verdun battlefield. Through small outside windows, the skeletal remains of at least 130,000 unidentified combatants of both nations can be seen filling up alcoves at the lower edge of the building. On the inside of the ossuary building, the ceiling and walls are partly covered by plaques bearing names of French soldiers who died during the Battle of Verdun.

Douaumont Ossuary is a memorial containing the skeletal remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield during the Battle of Verdun. It contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified soldiers.

There were 6 towns that were literally obliterated; they are gone! The forest is gone. It was like it had just happened and yet it had been 86 years. The forest was gone and no growth. 86 years and nothing was growing back. We took a tour bus; she spoke French! I’m amazed that I was able to understand the enormity and the horrors of this war. 

I love post cards. Here’s one to my Mom. John L was her uncle.

I think of all the young men that died during this war and how it literally changed the communities after the war ended. Changed forever and ever. 

So where’s the sweet spot? It’s about the importance of parents sharing family stories. You never know where it will lead. This one small story to me expanded my journey to find his grave, interview my cousins that lived near my aunts. I loved finding his tombstone with his photo. That was a bonus for me. I loved sitting in their living rooms in Homewood, Mississippi listening to even more stories and sipping sweet tea. And then, wait for it, I get to pass down that one story to my youngest son and take the journey of where John L gave his life for our country. Sweet! Yes, very sweet indeed!

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