May 1980: World War One veterans during installation ceremonies for Downey Barracks, Post 2348 of the American Veterans of World War One. From left: Alphonse Marchand, Valle Ernst, adjutant; and John Matotan, new commander.
For Memorial Day, I am posting a May 15, 1980 story and photos done for the Downey Southeast News. I wrote:
World War 1 is only a history lesson to most Americans, but for Harry Van Hoeven and many others “the war to end all wars” seems only yesterday.
Van Hoeven fought with the 32nd Infantry Division and spent seven months in the trenches. “Our nickname, 'Les Terribles', was given to us by the French,” Van Hoeven remembers. “No matter what front we were assigned, we always busted through.”
What Van Hoeven remembers most about World War I was “The smell of the whole thing. I fought in four major battles and saw a lot of gore.”
Some four and one-half million Americans participated in the war. Out of the 600,000 WWI veterans still alive, 61 are members of the Downey Barracks, Post 2348 of the American Veterans of World War One.
On a recent Friday night Downey Barracks members met at Apollo Park for their annual installation meeting. Working from their stated purpose of “continuing the fellowship begun in the battlefield,” the Barracks and their Women's Auxiliary introduced several new members for 1980.
War stories also abounded at the park meeting.
“I enlisted on April 25 1917,” said Warren Purdy, “and was discharged on January 19, 1919. I was only over in France for three and one-half months and never saw action. But we had plenty to do.”
Purdy described some noncombat action. “The driver of the bread wagon was a practical joker. To get even, the Mess Sergeant went out and bought a bottle of High Life (formaldehyde).”
“He poured the stuff right down the mules' backs. Those mules took off and about 900 loves of bread were all over the place – the wagon was completely upset.”
Purdy also told about a cook who was preparing breakfast when a piece of eggshell flew into his eye. The cook went to see the camp doctor and got the fragment removed.
“The doctor wrote in his report, 'shell fragment removed from cook's eye,' “ said Purdy. “Soon afterwards the cook got a Purple Heart for his injury received in action!”
Don Riggs is a Downey Barracks member who served as a medic in the war. “I was the predecessor of the modern paramedic – only I knew about 10 percent of what a paramedic knows.”
“We did know enough though, to get the guys to the field hospital in one piece,” Riggs related.
The former medic said the most emotional experience of the war “was the last shot fired at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the shot that ended the war. I was used to all the noise of the mortars and shells; the sudden silence was a shock.”
“Soon after that,” Riggs continued, “everyone was yelling and slapping backs – even the Germans.”
Flickr photo album: 1980 World War One veterans.
My thoughts on images past and present.