World War I, described as the “war to end all wars,” ended with the signing of the Armistice. The Armistice took effect on the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month in 1918. Following World War II we now remember veterans from all wars on Veterans Day, November 11th. On November 11th, 1918 my grandfather Louis was 23 years old, an army corporal and was in France fighting the Germans. Like many veterans during his life he talked sparingly about what he saw, but one sensed that it had to have been awful and likely beyond our ability to comprehend. He did describe what it was like being in trenches and subjected to mustard gas-blistering of skin, coughing and retching and worse. What would my then 23 year old grandfather have been thinking and feeling as he learned the war was ending?
He, like others, must have been overjoyed to hear that the war was over and that he would be able to return home to his family and that he had survived and that Germany had been defeated. Being an artist he celebrated by carving both sides of the lid of his mess kit. On one side he carved the date and time and what had been our nation’s motto until 1956—“E pluribus unum,” meaning, “out of many one,” referring to the creation of a single nation from many colonies. On the other side an image of Mother Liberty. My grandfather could not have chosen any images that would have better symbolized one’s love for country and American freedom.
My grandfather’s mess kit has been in my possession for many years and will always be one of our family’s most precious possessions. I was 23 when my grandfather died-the same age that he was when World War I came to an end. I have often looked at the carvings on his mess kit and wondered about the moments of their creation. As I have grown older, when holding the mess kit, I tear up thinking of him. I know that it is not because he is dead as he lived a very long and full life and I know the pain of losing someone who was far too young to have died. I have come to realize that I become emotional because I did not get to know my grandfather as well as I could and should have and, like others whom I have loved and are gone, it is too late to do so now.
I never thanked my grandfather for many things, including his service to our country.
Thank you grandpa.