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November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Today is Veterans Day: a day originally set aside to pay respect to the veterans who fought in World War I.

The solemn occasion originally observed "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918 when the guns of that war finally went silent, ending the horrors of the first modern war-making mechanics of the industrial age.

Until 1953, we celebrated the day as Armistice Day. In 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared it Veterans Day to honor all American Veterans.

Ever since then Veterans Day has significant for Americans and military historians as the occasion in which we take time to remember and thank all American men and women in uniform for their sacrifices to preserve our freedoms, rights and way of life.

For social and economic historians, 1918 - and the end of WWI - is the intellectual catalyst for revisiting a matrix of complicated social, political and economic events. Trials and travails of humanity for which the military has steadfastly stood guard while we continue to try and figure out and negotiate the ramifications.

WWI marked the disintegration of the Napoleonic era of world economic and political order manifested by the doomed German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. It was the end of three centuries of European world domination. Europe never recovered. World War II, 20 years later, was the final nail in the coffin.

It was also the year of the Great Influenza Pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide. For perspective, the total killed, wounded or missing in WWI was almost 39 million worldwide.

The next time you visit Mount Olivet Cemetery - or any of the older cemeteries in Frederick County - take note of all the 1918 dates.

According to a locally published account by A. W. Cissel, the first case of influenza in Frederick County was on September 24, 1918. History reflects that by the time October had come and gone, it had become one of the "greatest health catastrophes of modem times. Particularly hit hard were infants and young adults. Thurmont's doctors Birely and Kefauver averaged 35 house calls a day, but were powerless. (But by) November 11, when the Armistice ending the war was declared, there were few new cases."

A. W. Cissel wrote that in mid-October "the obituaries in the Catoctin Clarion ran for two columns and were a roll call of familiar Thurmont names. It was Editor Charles C. Waters painful duty to publish the passing of his friends and neighbors. The undertaking firms of M. L. Creager & Son or Wilhide and Creeger" bore the unpleasant task of preparing the bodies of so many of their friends for burial.

The Great Frederick Fair was not held in 1918, according to Cissel's account, for the "first time since the Civil War. (And) group gatherings were forbidden so the moving pictures usually shown at Thurmont's Town Hall by Mayor Lidie were abandoned. The ministers reluctantly cancelled services for October 24th and funeral services were limited to family members."

The catastrophic loss of life in1918 contributed to what social and intergenerational studies historians refer to as the "Lost Generation." The term was first coined by Gertrude Stein, who got the idea from her auto mechanic.

The Lost Generation is a demographic dynamic, which is still being felt to this day. Approximately 100 million of the folks born between 1883 and 1900 died in the several years up through 1918, due in part to the war and influenza.

One of the immediate results of the "Lost Generation" on society was that the role of women in society was changed forever as they left the farms and entered the mercantile and industrial workforce in unparalleled numbers.

Women began to assume leadership roles and became an economic force that demanded participation in making community decisions. This dynamic accelerated women being given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Since the first Armistice Day was observed in Frederick County, the county has changed a great deal. Just before WWI - in 1900, the county had a population of 51,920. Agriculture was king and Frederick County led the state in the production of wheat and corn. The county's economy was good and local jobs plentiful with 353 manufacturing industries; but there was - never-the-less - a clamor to attract more local jobs and industry.

Just before WWI, one of the biggest citizen complaints was the road system. Alright, perhaps some things have not changed. The tax rate in 1903 was 87 cents; however the 1909 to 1911 the Board of Commissioners raised the rate to $1.18.

Since its founding the form of government in Frederick County has changed several times. From 1748 to 1851, the form was a Levy Court appointed by the governor every year. In 1851, it changed to five commissioners elected every two years. In 1934 the number of commissioners changed to three, only to be changed back to five in 1974, where it has remained to this day.

With the great traditions of the past and with an eye for the future, one thing we can all hopefully agree upon is that today is a time to pause to remember and celebrate all of our nation's men and woman in uniform. We all appreciate their past and present sacrifices for our great nation.

One thing to be sure is that the only thing consistent in our world is constant change. Over the last 100 years, we have witnessed tumultuous elections, pestilence and plague, and many social, political, government and economic upheavals and changes.

One thing that has not changed is that it is a man or woman in uniform that has steadfastly stood guard so that our nation and our community may have the security and comfort to address the changes and challenges of our times.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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