Thursday, November 11, 2004

Spry at 106 years old and remembering the First Big War

I think, if my memory serves me, that the folks of the day called WWI the "War to end all wars." Unfortunately, they were not so accurate about that.

A lot of people have viewed this article on Veterans Day, but I thought a few of these comments from someone who was there and still recalls it to this day can still have meaning for us today.


MONTARGIS, France, (AFP) - The handshake is firm, the gaze is clear and the expression still alert. At 106, Ferdinand Gilson can never get out of his mind the six months he spent in the trenches of the Western Front.

AFP Photo

"I remember all that period -- well, nearly everything," said Gilson, who is one of only 15 surviving World War I veterans in France, "I have a few memory lapses."

Most of what he remembers, he'd rather forget -- the mud, choking gas, death, nauseous odors and hunger, but above all, the death of doomed companions as young as he was at 19.

"In the trenches, we ate at night so as not to see the worms on the meat," he said in an interview. "The stench was intolerable. But happily, there was wine -- seven to nine liters a day for the strongest...

...The nights were terrible because of the bombardments. At dawn we had to collect the dead and the wounded. Sometimes, when they were seriously injured, that became unbearable," Gilson said. "I had good hearing, and I could hear the shells coming. I yelled, 'they are after our arse,' and everyone threw themselves onto the ground."

...The madness was over," he said. "We were immensely happy. It is then that I learned to dance the polka -- with an artilleryman."

End of slice:

No doubt, life on the front has not improved much.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

NewsHour: Terence Smith speaks with Joseph Persico, author of "11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour: Armistice Day 1918, World War I and Its Violent Climax," about the day on which we celebrate our nation's veterans. Click the link to find Real Audio.

Persico's book title comes from the time of the armistice, signed at 5AM and due to go into effect 6 hours later. In the interval the military leadership, instead of doing nothing and waiting for the appointed hour, sent another 10,000 men to their deaths.