Someone made the comment last week that Memorial Day is for the soldiers who died in battle. Veterans Day is for those who came home.
Yet, Veterans Day was established to commemorate the armistice signed to end World War I at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.
They didn’t call it World War I back then. It was the “Great War,” thought to be the “war to end all wars.”
If only that had been the case. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War and the continuing conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan followed.
The Great War has lost its relevance to most, because for many there is no longer a personal connection to the people who fought in it.
Today, however, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and the United Veterans Council of San Joaquin will participate in a nationwide centennial commemoration.
Beginning at 11 a.m. in France and Belgium, Bells of Peace will ring and continue to ring across each time zone at 11 a.m., ending at the USS Arizona in Honolulu.
At 11 a.m. at the Bob Hope Theatre, the United Veterans Council will honor the 128 men from San Joaquin County who perished in the war.
A bell will ring after every 11 names are read.
The event, which begins with breakfast at 9 a.m. followed at 10:30 a.m. with the beginning of the ceremony — including performances by Edison High School’s choir — is the culmination of a project that began in February when retired teacher Elaine Dixon-Ugarkovich saw the plaques listing the county’s World War I dead at Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium.
A long-time genealogist, Dixon-Ugarkovich researched two family members who served in World War I and began researching the local casualties.
There are 122 names on the two plaques, but 128 names will be called today.
“I had to make a decision,” Dixon-Ugarkovich said. “Edward Lorenson worked for the Santa Cruz newspaper. His mother lived in Escalon, but he never did. I was going to leave him off, but there are two other young men on the plaque who never lived here, but their parents made sure their sons were on the plaque. It wasn’t for me to judge.”
She included them all.
Using her genealogy expertise, she found military records, transport papers, census and other documents and obituaries in The Stockton Record. Her laptop was always with her, whether cruising down the Danube in July, cruising along the Pacific coast or spending two weeks in Mexico at the timeshare she and her husband have.
She wrote biographies of each man, 400,000 words, 188 document pages she hopes will be published as a book by Tuleburg Press.
There’s Karl Ross, for whom the local American Legion post is named, who was a member of the Anteros Club. When he died, a friend who was with him sent a letter to members of the club telling them Ross had spoken so highly of the club, he was compelled to write and tell them how Ross had died.
The one that choked her up the most was the story of Rollin Freshour, who lay wounded in the Argonne Forest for two days with a broken leg before the Germans found him and made him a prisoner of war. It took two weeks for him to reach a doctor to set his leg. He was transferred from prison camp to prison camp and when the war ended, he weighed 85 pounds.
Returned to France, military officials feared he was too weak to make the trip home and he didn’t leave Europe until August 1919. He took the train to California and a friend picked him up and took him to his Ripon home. His mother nearly collapsed when she saw him. A week later, he died of pneumonia.
His name is not on the plaque, but most fatalities are, whether the soldiers were killed in action, died from disease or accident.
Those who died in the war came home to funerals of high honor. Corteges paraded through the streets. Businesses along the routes were asked to shut their doors so no noise of the business would disrespect the fallen hero.
Full obituaries were written. The fallen ranged from college graduates to a young man who barely spoke English. He’d joined as a way of becoming a naturalized American citizen.
Our only touchstone to that time and those men are photos and stories, but it’s not hard to look at them and remember they men were no different from the young men who have served since, and are serving today.
They had hopes and dreams, but choose to serve their country, even if it meant paying the ultimate sacrifice.
Veterans Day was intended to honor them. Once again, it actually will.
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.